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Thursday, October 15, 2009

CAPTAIN’S COURAGEOUS (1937)


Among the Golden Age Hollywood masters, Victor Fleming remains largely unheralded and unknown. Apparently, helming THE WIZARD OF OZ and GONE WITH THE WIND (both 1939) isn’t enough to make your rep! But a look at this brawny slice of Hollywood storytelling should help you seal the deal for him. Young Freddie Bartholomew is just great as a bratty rich kid who falls off an ocean liner only to be rescued by Spencer Tracy, a Portuguese-American member of a cod-fishing crew. Tracy doesn’t play the part in a modern realistic manner, but adjusting to this older style of movie-star acting is a pleasure (odd hair, accent and all). By the end, you’d have voted for his Oscar, too. (He also won for next year’s BOYS TOWN, but that’s a vote you might have withheld.) Fleming gets outstanding perfs from all his crew, Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, John Carradine, Mickey Rooney; all toned down, yet intensely memorable here. Fleming has a way of allowing the screen to be perfectly shared, the beautiful two-shot conversations between Tracy & Bartholomew are so emotionally intimate, you may catch your breath to keep from tearing up. But nothing, and I mean nothing, will keep you from sobbing away at the climax. But note how beautifully the film holds up right thru the brief, joyous coda. Often thought of as a kid’s pic, this is a family film that isn’t an insult to the term.

CONTEST: The film opens with a quick shot of Bartholomew’s impressive estate. It’s no backlot facade, but a real building with a famous Hollywood history to it. Name that history (careful, there’s not one, but TWO famous connections for you to come up with) to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of the NetFlix DVD of your choice.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Thanks to critic Michael Sragow, there’s finally a big, handsome bio of Victor Fleming. Hurrah!

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