#110. Captains Courageous (1937)

I wasn’t expecting to like this one either, since I’m still for some reason dismissive of sea-voyage stories despite having loved Mutiny on the Bounty (Captain Blood wasn’t so bad either), but I ended up loving it, a lot, and not entirely for its strength as a movie, or because it’s one of the more stirring examples of a Depression-era sensibility (I’ll elaborate on that in a moment), but mainly because – I guess it’s two reasons – (1) it was the first movie from the List that I watched after a week-long hiatus from the Project, where I wrapped up edits on Horny Nuns, and so my love for it got me excited about the Project all over again, like a second honeymoon, and (2) because I’m stressing the fuck out about getting some kind of full time job as a writer, any kind of writer, which is proving to be such a headache because, despite all the writing I’ve done, and the small bit of publishing I’ve enjoyed, I still don’t seem to have any qualifications that these writing gigs ask for, save for what I think to be a decent grip on English (and How She is Spoke). It’s also tricky because, much as I wanna have a job that fits my skillset, I really don’t wanna write copy for anybody. About anything. So I get moody about the whole application process. I guess the issue is that I want a writing job, but dread getting one. I know without a doubt that I’d rather work in a totally unrelated field than to spend my days writing stuff that doesn’t interest me. I’ve had to do it for freelancing gigs in the past and I hated it. Articles about the life of Herodotus, or Mao, or the various things people can do with their pets’ cremains. All of those articles were bad. Maybe these essays are bad too. There’s this dread that creeps up on my sometimes where I’ll get to thinking suddenly about the books and short stories and essays that I couldn’t get published, can’t get published, and suddenly it’s like the sun’s dimming, I zone out and can’t focus, end up just sitting around or going to bars and floundering, wallowing. The antidote to that is to remind myself that I’ve enjoyed writing all that stuff, regardless of whetehr they’ve been noticed or not, and that I personaly appreciate the way that I write (the style, the subject matter, etc.). It certainly isn’t expensive, so I don’t have to feel bad about money, it doesn’t hurt anybody, and there’s solace to be had in reminding myself that I’m working toward something, a clear-cut goal, which is publication, a steady stream of gratifying work – a living. Maybe I’ll achieve that thing, maybe not, but it’s nice to know that I’m pushing myself one or two pages closer to that goal every day. Going to bed with a feeling like I’ve exhausted myself in its pursuit.


I can’t always reposition my focus away from dread or doubt, whatever the gloom of the day might be. It’s best, when that happens, to just distract myself for a bit. And Captains Courageous provides the best kind of distraction. It’s total Oscar bait (it was nominated for three, including Best Picture): lots of warm humor, a bit of adventure, life lessons, a wholesome father-son dynamic that cultivates an arc for our damaged young protagonist, generating some tears along the way. Also, to re-tread the whole Depression-Era Sensibility thing for the thousandth time: Captains Courageous is about a rich kid names Harvey whose father loves him but seldom comes around, works all the time, and – in what the movie suggests is a direct result of that paternal absence – Harvey is a prick. Entitled and manipulative and petulant and weak. So his dad decides to take him along on a business trip. They’re on a huge boat to some place, I think it’s England, when Harvey falls overboard. He’s rescued by a fisherman named Manuel (Spencer Tracy) and made to live in a fishing vessel for three months, during which time Manuel becomes Harvey’s father figure. The shitty kid gets his high-life pomposity beaten out of him with months of labor aboard the ship. He’s humbled by the virtue and valor of blue collar workers who bleed and sweat for every dollar they earn.

captains courageous pic.jpg
Lil douchebag Harvey and his father figure Manuel

The movie is just wonderful. The performance by Tracy as Manuel is one of the most endearing things to appear on the List so far (forgiving his awful accent). It distracted me for a night, made me think hard about how it works as a film and about the Depression, and, with all its heart, gave me an outlet for shedding a couple backed-up tears.

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