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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.

Captains Courageous
Captains Courageous poster.jpg
Film poster
Directed byVictor Fleming
Produced byLouis D. Lighton
Written byJohn Lee Mahin
Marc Connelly
Dale Van Every
Based onCaptains Courageous
1897 novel
by Rudyard Kipling
StarringFreddie Bartholomew
Spencer Tracy
Lionel Barrymore
Melvyn Douglas
Mickey Rooney
Music byFranz Waxman
CinematographyHarold Rosson
Edited byElmo Veron
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • May 11, 1937 (1937-05-11)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3,133,000[1]

Backgrounds and exteriors for the film were shot on location in Port aux Basques, Newfoundland and Shelburne, Nova Scotia in Canada, and Gloucester, Massachusetts.[2]


Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is the spoiled son of American business tycoon Frank Burton Cheyne (Melvyn Douglas). Harvey is shunned by his classmates at a private boarding school, and eventually suspended for bad behavior. His father therefore takes 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 (Lionel Barrymore), 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. When a prank of Harvey's causes a fish hook to lodge in a crewman's arm, Manuel defends the boy.

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



Los Angeles premiere of Captains Courageous (May 17, 1937)

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."[3] Variety reported that the Kipling story had "been given splendid production, performance, photography and dramatic composition."[4] 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."[5] 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."[6]

Box officeEdit

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 cultureEdit

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 costarring Melvyn Douglas, 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 alsoEdit


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

External linksEdit