I will be watching all 10 nominees from 1937 before I move on to the next year. The goal here is to watch them and have an internal discussion among them to try to piece together a “history” of the year. Let’s get to it.
Captains Courageous is well-paced, well-acted and holds up over the 80 or so years since its premier in 1937. Rudyard Kipling, of Jungle Book fame, wrote a story that translates well to the screen; humans have a fascination with the unruly sea, that which can giveth life but also taketh. The ocean is often the setting for panacea, spreading hope like miasma, even to the darkest corners and especially for the darkest souls. Kipling’s story extends its reach to that of a child, young Harvey Cheyne, for whom wealth has clouded an imagination and turned a typically joyful time in a person’s life spoiled, spiteful and shrewd. As a character study, Captains Courageous provides a wealth of archetypes that interact: young Cheyne and his wealthy but distant father, Spencer Tracy’s slightly-overacted-but-nevertheless-earnest Manuel, seaworthy Captain Disko Troop (Lionel Barrymore), et cetera. But the movie still feels told-before in a way, and as a consequence, dull.
Perhaps through jaded-colored glasses, this story has been told many times since and can no longer be differentiated from the countless iterations in the 80 or so years since. This is, of course, quite a subjective response dependent on the fact that The Academy Nominees Project exists with a close circle of friends almost guaranteeing we’ve seen everything (not literally). So while this pieces change, the story remains and those versed in storytelling notice a rehashing of tropes as a “teaching” moment, a resolution somewhat guaranteed, that’s incomparable to real life situations. It’s escapism at it’s finest because Captains Courageous is well-made and well-meaning. But escapism is unsustainable. Its counterfactual is weariness, to be surfeit with time and life experience. Continue reading