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Literature / Captains Courageous

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Should have used him for bait.

Captains Courageous is a novel by Rudyard Kipling. It was first published in book form in 1897, having been serialized in McClure's magazine the previous year.

Harvey Cheyne, the spoiled teenage son of rich American parents, is washed overboard during a transatlantic voyage. He is picked up by a deep sea fishing vessel, whose captain refuses to cut short the ship's fishing run and makes Harvey work his passage.

The novel was adapted for the screen in 1937. The film was directed by Victor Fleming, and starred Freddie Bartholomew (the biggest child star of his day, non-Shirley Temple division) as Harvey, supported by an All-Star Cast that included Melvyn Douglas, Lionel Barrymore, John Carradine, a young Mickey Rooney just as he was breaking out as a star, and Spencer Tracy as Manuel, the Portuguese fisherman who becomes Harvey's mentor and father figure. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, with Tracy winning his first Best Actor award (he won again the next year for Boys Town).


A Made-for-TV Movie adaptation aired on ABC in 1977, starring Jonathan Kahn as Harvey and Ricardo Montalbán as Manuel.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Brownface: A very WASP-y Spencer Tracy appears to be wearing tanning lotion or something in order to play a Portuguese fisherman. Apparently Tracy never felt he was believeable in the part.
  • The Cabin Boy: Harvey. Although the boat already has a boy aboard to handle the drudgery duties, and despite Harvey's thorny pomposity, the fishermen allow Harvey to serve aboard as apprentice cabin boy. Life at sea for months results in a slow but steady Character Development, to the point where Harvey becomes the Captain's accountant.
  • Cassandra Truth: When rescued, Harvey immediately tells Disko and his crew that he's a millionaire's son, but no one believes him until his father finally arrives at the end.
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  • Coming-of-Age Story: When Harvey falls off the transatlantic steamer, he's a spoiled boy. When he steps off the fishing vessel at the end of the novel, he's a young man who is trusted to handling the ship's accounts with the later sale of the catch.
  • Father Neptune: Disko Troop, the captain of the fishing vessel.
  • Foreshadowing: Manuel's remarks about how drowning at sea is a good way for a sailor to go.
  • Manly Men Can Hunt: 19th-century deep sea fishing is manly enough to qualify.
  • Missing Mom: In the 1937 movie, Harvey's mom is dead. Not true of the Kipling novel.
  • My Girl Back Home: Some of the fishermen have a Girl Back Home. There is a poignant scene in which the Gloucester fishing families gather at a church to listen to the yearly casualty report and several newly widowed women burst out in tears.
  • Not-So-Safe Harbor: Gloucester, the home port of the fishing vessel.
  • Railroad Baron: Harvey's father. He falls toward the sympathetic end of the range of depictions.
  • The Rival: The Jennie Cushman, another ship that is the rival to Capt. Troop's We're Here. Much competition and trash-talking is had.
  • Setting Update: The movie is set in 1937.


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