Saturday, March 28, 2009

Freddie Bartholomew, 1924-2002

Child star Freddie Bartholomew was born on this day in 1924, and it's worth mentioning one of his best-known movies, Captains Courageous.

Bartholomew plays Harvey Cheyne, who is one of the most obnoxious spoiled brats you'll ever see on cinema. He's manipulative, and a compulsive liar and cheat, qualities that get him expelled from the tony private school where his father (played by Melvyn Douglas) has sent him. Father is asked to spend some "quality time" bonding with son, and so takes Harvey on an ocean liner to England. While on the boat, Harvey continues his rotten ways, but eventually gets his comeuppance when, as part of a game of hide-and-seek, falls overboard. Is this the end of our hero? No! He gets rescued by a fishing boat.

The fishing boat's captain, Captain Troop (played by Lionel Barrymore) isn't quite certain what to do with his new passenger, and soon makes Harvey work for his supper -- this is a fishing boat, and it's hard work for everybody. After a while, Harvey comes under the tutelage of Manuel, a Portuguese-American sailor played by Spencer Tracy. Manuel is uneducated, but knows a lot more about real life then anybody in those private schools could ever teach Harvey. And so, Manuel teaches Harvey important lessons about responsibility, friendship, and fatherhood. Although Harvey comes to love and respect Manuel, life isn't a bed of roses....

Captains Courageous is an excellent family movie, especially for boys. The emotion may be slightly over the top at times, enough to make adults cringe, but for the most part, the acting is quite good, and children won't notice the lack of subtlety. The cast is full of well-known names giving fine performances, with Bartholomew and Tracy leading the way. Tracy, of course, won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance. In addition to the names I've already mentioned, there's Mickey Rooney, playing Captain Troop's son, and giving Harvey lessons by example in father/son relationships. Long Jack, one of the fellow sailors on sailors on the fishing vessel, is played by John Carradine.

Captains Courageous is available on DVD, so you can watch it any time you like.

1 comment:

Moira Finnie said...

I just came across your comments on Captains Courageous as a family film that might be best for boys. Au contraire, mon ami! It is a splendidly moving film for girls as well and has been a perennial favorite of my three sisters for about forty years.
If you have a chance to read Michael Sragow's biography of the director, "Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master" (Pantheon), I think that it might even increase your appreciation for this well crafted film.

Freddie Bartholomew never seemed to get his due as a actor, but thank goodness he had enough inner strength to transition into adulthood.

Thanks so much for posting this piece on Bartholomew.