Sailing to Europe in 1898, "Young Harvey Cheyne Jr. is snobbish and arrogant. He enjoys having others at his service and flaunting his money," according to the VHS sleeve synopsis. Harvey's "life takes a significant turn when he falls overboard from his father's ship. He is rescued by fishermen who are just beginning their three month fishing season, and they do not have time to return him to his home." They also do not believe young Harvey is, as he claims, the son of a multi-millionaire.
At sea, "The leader, Captain Troop, tells Harvey that he will work on the ship and be returned to his home at the end of the season. At first, Harvey refuses to work because he feels he is above physical labor. Eventually he realizes that he must work and do his part. With the patience and guidance of Captain Troop, Harvey learns to respect others and the value of hard work." Teenager Jonathan Kahn plays Rudyard Kipling's seafaring kid, with Karl Malden assuming the fatherly captain's role.
In this case, being truer to the classic "Captains Courageous" doesn't make a better motion picture; for comparison, see the 1937 version starring Freddie Bartholomew (as Harvey) and Spencer Tracy (as Manuel). Therein, the emotional bond is narrowed to young Bartholomew and "feesherman" Tracy. The condensing made the older film a powerful tearjerker, as Tracy's role was elevated to co-starring. His counterpart in this version, Ricardo Montalban (as Manuel), is a more minor player.
Mr. Kahn does very well as the bratty Harvey, especially during the early running; but, he and his cast-mates suffer through some laborious middle ground. The character actors are, as always, a lot of fun - but, you always know WHO you're watching. An relative exception is Neville Brand, who essays his tragic preacher role rather auspiciously . The ending is disjointed - a startling "return" to narration indicates the film's structure may have undergone some changes during (or post) production.
****** Captains Courageous (12/4/77) Harvey Hart ~ Jonathan Kahn, Karl Malden, Johnny Doran, Ricardo Montalban
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