HOLLYWOOD GLOSS ON KIPUNG
But " Captains Courageous " and Freddie Bartholomew Emerge
From RICHARD DAGNALL
There has so far only been space for the briefest reference to Captains Courageous, the screen adaptation of Kipling's book. In praise of this film the critics have raised their voices in gratifying unison; the opportunity now comes to examine (we will hope in a mood of not too severe reaction from the stimulus of the past fortnight) the merits and demerits of Holywood's gloss upon Kipling.
It should be said at once that those who dote upon Freddie—and their name is apparently legion—will find a feast, a positive Bartholomew Fair, awaiting them, and they are hardly likely to mock a film which gives him such a brilliant opportunity. Those, on the other hand, who find him insufferable—and this follows inevitably while the present stellar system holds sway—will probaby detest it with equal fervour. Others who are capable of keeping an open mind on the subject (it must be admitted that there is very little evidence that any such third class exists) will probably decide that Captains Courageous, regarded on its own merits and not merely as a vehicle for the exploitation of Freddie Bartholomew's talents, is a good film but very far short of a masterpiece.
The Unspeakable " It " The story—not so far removed from Kipling that some may not recognise
concerns a much cossetted and quite insufferable millionaire's son who falls off a liner in mid-Atlantic after a surfeit of chocolate sodas, is picked up by a Massachusetts fishing schooner and under the influence Of a simple-hearted Portuguese sailor gradually develops the sterling qualities which, we are led to infer, only the stifling atmosphere of wealth in which he has been brought up has prevented from emerging. Here, it will be seen, Freddie Bartholomew has the chance of his life. In the opening sequences we see him as a sort of boy counterpart of Bonita Granville, bullying the servants at home (where he is rightly referred to below stairs in the neuter—" it," the unspeakable) and importing gangster methods into his school. Subsequently, and during by far the greater part of the film, we are shown his gradual metamorphosis aboard the We're Here, followed finally, after the death of Manuel, the Portuguese sailor, by reconciliation with his father and the return of a new and regenerated Freddie to his former life.
Full Marks for Freddie
This is as severe a test as any actor could want, and Freddie Bartholomew emerges from it with flying colours. There is a sincerity and feeling about his acting which is admirably suited to the task of conveying Kipling's moral purpose.
Spencer Tracy in an unaccustomed role —he only gets tough once throughout the film—gives a convincing and unforced performance as Manuel. In minor parts Lionel Baerymore as Disko Troop, skipper of the Were Here and Mickey Rooney as his son also distinguish themselves; and Melvyn Douglas as the millionaire father does all that is required of him.
The film is in fact extremely well acted throughout; yet it remains not entirely satisfactory. The reason lies in the fact that Kipling's theme, though praiseworthy, is a very familiar one; and consequently from the moment Freddie is hauled aboard the We're Here we know exactly what is to come. It was therefore imperative that the tempo should never be allowed to lag; the gradual change of heart should have been illustrated by a number of swift, effective scenes.
In this the director has not been altogether successful; the film hangs fire a little in the middle: and, worse than this, its ending is far too drawn out. At a point where the action is at an end and the theme virtually complete the film con
tinues for nearly a quarter of an hour at an almost unbearable emotional pitch; and when this prolonged sequence of tears and last tributes is finally over, the last shot of father and son merrily departing with Manuel's boat in tow strikes, to say the least of it, a jarring note. Surely, too, it is not altogether captious to suggest that, however, inflated with Coronation films the programme may have been, it was a mistake to subject evening audiences to so exhausting a finale at ten minutes before midnight?
Despite these faults, Captains Courageous has much to commend it; it deserves praise both for the high level of acting which is maintained throughout, and for its stirring seascapes and shots of the fisherman's life at sea. The scene in which the We're Here racing her rival to port, carries away her topmast—an accident which costs Manuel his life—will long remain in the memory. On the whole, all but those who recoil from the disconcertingly precocious talent of Freddie Bartholomew may be safely advised to go and see it. 'S dealt and called One Spade; W Two Hearts. The bid is a fairly sound one though actually it can he doubled at once by N. N has in fact several choices at this juncture; he can double, or say two No Trumps or three Clubs. The latter is perhaps the safest bid and many would he tempted to make it. But if so, W's bid has succeeded in stopping a game call; E passes and S can scarcely call again. If however the call of two Hearts is doubled by N, then the penalty is not very severe for W and E, if it stops a sure game. It would appear then that N must reveal his double guard in Hearts at once by calling two No Trumps and in that case, if E passes as he must, S should try three No Trumps; which he makes easily, the Clubs breaking nicely and providing five out of the nine tricks he needs.
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