Taking this Rudyard Kipling story, written when he visited America some years earlier, the producers have made the central character of the spoiled child younger than he was in the book, and for the purposes of the screen have indulged in other slight, unimportant alterations. Spencer Tracy is a Portuguese fisherman with an accent and a flair for singing songs of the briny. Lionel Barrymore is the happy-go-lucky but stern captain of a fishing schooner while Bartholomew, of course, is the boy.
The Kipling yarn, built around a wealthy, motherless brat who accidentaly lands with a cod-fishing fleet, and undergoes regeneration during an enforced three months’ piscatorial quest, has been given splendid production, performance, photography and dramatic composition.
Young Bartholomew plays the spoiled kid, only son of wealthy father, who falls off a liner bound for Europe and is picked up by Tracy, the fisherman to whom the recalcitrant boy finally becomes deeply attached. Bartholomew’s transition from a brat to a lovable child is done with convincing strokes.
His performance is matched by Tracy, who also doesn’t seem right doing an accent and singing songs, but he, too, later gets under the skin of the character. Barrymore is himself, as usual. As the father of the boy, Melvyn Douglas gives a smooth, unctuous performance. One of the fishermen is deftly portrayed by John Carradine.
1937: Best Actor (Spencer Tracy).
Nominations: Best Picture, Screenplay, Editing