That’s what happens to young Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew). When we first meet the boy, he’s spoiled rotten and believes that his father’s money can get him anything. He uses it as a threat against boys who won’t let them into their club and even tries to bribe one of his teachers. Somehow all this has gone over Mr. Cheyne’s head and when he gets word of his son’s behavior it makes him look like a negligent fool. So the Cheynes set off on a ship to England for the summer, where the father hopes to teach his boy some more respectable behavior. There doesn’t seem much hope of that until Harvey falls overboard the ship and is rescued by a Massachusetts fisherman in a rowboat, Manuel (Spencer Tracy).
Once Harvey wakes up and realizes he’s on a fishing boat, he starts barking orders to the men, claiming that if they don’t return him to land his father will put all of them in jail. The fact is that the ship has just started their summer catch won’t go back to port until after they’ve filled the boat with fish, so either Harvey can help them get some fish for the summer or pout for three months. For a while, he chooses to pout, making everyone miserable and refusing to work. The captain gets tired of it and since Manuel brought the kid aboard, he will have to make him work.
Manuel becomes Harvey’s mentor, teaching him everything about the ship and how to catch fish. Once Harvey drops his brat act, they begin to get along well. It isn’t long into their journey that Manuel has become the strong father figure Harvey has needed all his life.
Manuel is a crazy salt with broken English, a huge heart, who sings and plays an old instrument his father gave him. He is a lovely kind of eccentric person who’s so passionate and full of life narrow minded little Harvey can’t even comprehend it for a while, so at first he must criticize it. Through and through Tracy brings such a wonderfully positive attitude to Manuel it’s infectious, even contagious to bratty little Harvey. It’s with all these simple, honest, loveable characteristics that just radiate out of Tracy that he easily won the Best Actor award. Since watching this film, Manuel has become one of my favorite positive characters in film.
There’s something intriguing about the way the camera can move. At times, it’s tilted to suggest the angle of the boat, other’s it seems to cut parts of people’s faces off, yet it never bothered me. It bobs along with the waves, all I needed was a fan and some salty sea water misting in now and then.
I absolutely loved this film, a new addition to my favorites list since starting this project. The story is engaging and uplifting while filled with peril and a grand sense of adventure and shows the fruits of a good work ethic. Best of all, Tracy’s Manuel will be loved by all, he’s such an interesting and lovable character, one we want to live up to. I would recommend watching Captains Courageous with the kiddies, but have a little speech ready about going to heaven. Even I nearly cried.
In the end, you know Harvey wrote the most intriguing “What I did over summer vacation” essay in his class. And for once he didn’t lord it over his mates. And if they didn’t believe him, I would’ve shown off the scars.
“15 years I’ve been fisherman, first time I catch fish like you.”