Captains Courageous (1937 film)

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Captains Courageous
Captains Courageous poster.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Victor Fleming
Produced by Louis D. Lighton
Written by John Lee Mahin
Marc Connelly
Dale Van Every
Based on Captains Courageous by
Rudyard Kipling
Starring Freddie Bartholomew
Spencer Tracy
Lionel Barrymore
Melvyn Douglas
Mickey Rooney
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Elmo Veron
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • 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, "Captains Courageous: A Story of the Grand Banks", 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 American business tycoon Frank Burton Cheyne (Melvyn Douglas). He is shunned by his classmates at a private boarding school, and eventually suspended for bad behavior. His father therefore takes his son with him on a business trip to Europe, travelling there by trans-Atlantic steamship. Mid passage, Harvey falls overboard in 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", from Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Harvey is shocked the schooner's captain, Disko Troop, intends fishing in the Atlantic for three more months. He fails to persuade the captain to take him back to New York nor can he convince him of his wealth; but Captain Disko offers Harvey temporary crew membership until they return to port. Harvey is reluctant to do real work but eventually accepts. Befriended by Captain Troop's son, Dan (Mickey Rooney), he becomes acclimated to the demanding fishing lifestyle. The We're Here fills with fish they catch.

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. However, the mast cracks and he is plunged into the icy sea. Manuel realizes that he is fatally injured because some of the rigging is entangled around his legs underwater; he tells the captain to cut him free from the boat, knowing this will kill him. As Manuel says goodbye to Harvey, who is crying and distraught, the captain cuts the rigging around Manuel, who sinks below the water. Eventually, the schooner returns to port and Harvey is reunited with his father, who is impressed by his son's greater maturity. The film closes with Harvey and his father commemorating Manuel at a church ceremony, before starting a sailing adventure together.

Tracy and Bartholomew as Manuel and Harvey



Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times called the film "another of those grand jobs of moviemaking we have come to expect of Hollywood's most prodigal studio. With its rich production, magnificent marine photography, admirable direction and performances, the film brings vividly to life every page of Kipling's novel and even adds an exciting chapter or two of its own."[2] Variety reported that the Kipling story had "been given splendid production, performance, photography and dramatic composition."[3] Harrison's Reports wrote, "Excellent! It is the type of entertainment that audiences will not forget soon, for its spiritual beauty makes a deep impression on one."[4] John Mosher of The New Yorker called it "as rich a film as you will see this spring ... The picture is magnificent as a sketch of storm and struggle on the ocean."[5]

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 $1,488,000.[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 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.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

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.

The film is considered a classic semi documentary record of Grand Banks Schooners fishing under sail. The back projection shots of the period fishing schooners under sail are frequently watched by members of the American Sail Training Community for the sailing shots - rather than for the human plot.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ Nugent, Frank S. (May 12, 1937). "Movie Review: Captains Courageous". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved August 31, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Film reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. May 19, 1937. p. 22. 
  4. ^ "Captains Courageous". Harrison's Reports. New York: Harrison's Reports, Inc.: 71 May 1, 1937. 
  5. ^ Mosher, John (May 15, 1937). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 105. 
  6. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-05. 
  7. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 

External links[edit]