Captains Courageous (1937 film)

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Captains Courageous
Captains Courageous poster.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Victor Fleming
Written by Rudyard Kipling (novel)
Starring Freddie Bartholomew
Spencer Tracy
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Elmo Veron
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • May 11, 1937 (1937-05-11)
Running time 115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,645,000[1]
Box office $3,133,000[1]

Captains Courageous is a 1937 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer adventure film. Based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling, it had its world premiere at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. The movie was produced by Louis D. Lighton and directed by Victor Fleming. Filmed in black-and-white, Captains Courageous was advertised by MGM as a coming-of-age classic with exciting action sequences.


Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is the spoiled son of an indulgent absentee father, business tycoon Frank Burton Cheyne (Melvyn Douglas). He is shunned by his classmates at a private boarding school, and eventually suspended for the remainder of the term due to bad behavior. His father realizes that the boy needs closer attention and guidance, so he takes his son with him on a business trip to Europe via a trans-Atlantic steamship.

En route, Harvey, as a result of another display of arrogance, falls overboard in the area of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. He is rescued by a Portuguese-American fisherman, Manuel Fidello (Spencer Tracy), and taken aboard the fishing schooner We're Here. Harvey fails to persuade captain Disko Troop (Lionel Barrymore) to take him ashore, nor can he convince him of his wealth. However, the captain offers him a low-paid job as part of the crew until they return to port three months later. With no other choice, Harvey eventually accepts. Befriended by Captain Troop's son, Dan (Mickey Rooney), he begins to learn the ways of working at sea.

Under the guidance of Manuel, and observing his equally tough crewmates, Harvey thrives, coming to learn that his former practices of cheating, bragging and whining are not an acceptable way of life. He also finds the father figure in Manuel he never had with his own father, and pleads with Manuel to allow him to remain on the We're Here after their return. In the climactic race back to the Gloucester, Massachusetts port against a rival schooner, the Jennie Cushman, Manuel climbs to the top of the mast to furl the sail, but is mortally injured when the mast cracks and he is plunged into the water, caught irreversibly in the tangled rope and the topsail canvas. Manuel is cut loose of the ropes to sink below the surface to his death, and Harvey loses his surrogate father and best friend.

Eventually, the schooner returns to port and Harvey is reunited with his father. Rushing to Gloucester, Harvey's father is surprised to find that his self-centered child has become mature and considerate. Harvey refuses to be comforted by his father, preferring to mourn for Manuel alone, but eventually comes around.

Tracy and Bartholomew as Manuel and Harvey


Box Office[edit]

According to MGM records the film earned $1,688,000 in the US and Canada and $1,445,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $355,000.[1]


Spencer Tracy won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in this film. The movie was also nominated for three other Academy Awards:

A New York Times review said it "brings vividly to life every page of Kipling's novel". A VHS version of the 1937 film was released by MGM Home Video in 1990 followed by Warner Home Video's DVD of the film on January 31, 2006.

In popular culture[edit]

Holden Caulfield, protagonist of the 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, is thought to look like Harvey Cheyne, as in the book a prostitute tells Caulfield that he looks like the boy who falls off a boat in a film starring Spencer Tracy, though the film is not mentioned by name.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .

External links[edit]