It was a packed house at Spaulding Marine Center last Friday, as droves of movie fans piled under the heat lamps to watch a screening of Captains Courageous, one of our readers’ favorite sailing films. It was a reminder that movies are best seen with an audience and as part of a collective.
The setting for an old-timey movie was perfect: Smack dab in the middle of woodworking facilities and surrounded by frames of boats hanging from the rafters and on the periphery. Spaulding provided an assortment of beverages and popcorn before the silver screen flickered to life.
We reviewed Captains Courageous in October as part of the Latitude Movie Club, and noted the odd, incongruous setup, or first act of the movie. We’re immersed in the life of Harvey Cheyne Jr. — played by Freddie Bartholomew — a New York tycoon’s son, and a bitter, jealous and pathologically lying brat who "demands validation from those around him, coveting loyalty from people he cares nothing about," we wrote.
Act one of Captains Courageous doesn’t feel like a sailing movie at all. There are perhaps hints of what’s to come, such as a few paintings of ships hanging on the walls of the Cheynes’ opulent Manhattan apartment. But otherwise, we’re given no indication that this will be a story about building character through the rigors of being at sea, surrounded by one’s shipmates.
In movies, the end of an act is marked by a plot point, a "significant event within a plot that spins the action around in another direction," according to screenwriting guru Syd Field. As Cheyne Jr. slips off the deck of a ship and plunges into the ocean, the course of the movie is spun dramatically. Cheyne is plucked from the water by Manuel Fidello (played by Spencer Tracy) — a character we instantly love — and rowed to the fishing schooner We’re Here, silhouetted in the moonlight.
It was at this moment at Spaulding that the audience seemed to breathe a collective sigh, almost of relief, and applauded. These are the moments in movies that can only be had in the ‘theater’, even one as impromptu as an old wooden warehouse in Sausalito. It was a sublime, unexpected moment we were delighted to share. Act two had begun, Captains Courageous was now a sailing movie, and the life of its vile main character, Cheyne Jr., could finally take a new tack.