Captains Courageous (1937)
Captains Courageous makes me cry like a little girl every time, and not just because of Spencer Tracy's accent*, but because Freddie Bartholomew is so very good. It's probably the only picture where Freddie gets to be unpleasant, which he is for the first half: a spoiled, braggart of a boy who thinks the only way to be popular is to throw around his father's (Melvyn Douglas) money and position at every opportunity. Harvey Cheyne (Bartholomew) comes by it honestly, as his widower father has spent very little time with him and shows his affection by giving the kid too much money and not enough guidance.
This is exactly what the headmaster and teachers of Harvey's school tell Mr. Cheyne when they temporarily expel the boy after his inability to take punishment gracefully. Everyone's awfully nice about it: the teachers believe there's good in Harvey beneath the bluster; the dad agrees that (1) Harvey deserved the biff on the snoot delivered by another boy and (2) he hasn't been much of a father. So Harvey and his dad set off on an ocean liner for a business/bonding trip and Harvey promptly falls overboard somewhere in the Grand Banks.
Luckily, Harvey is soon picked up by one of the many fisherman (Spencer Tracy) plying their trade in the area. Once aboard the main fishing vessel, Captain Disko (Lionel Barrymore) tells the boy they can't bring him to shore until the season is over, because all the men have families and this is how they make their living, but Harvey can work for those three months and make himself useful. After oomphing about it for awhile (a lot of "see hyeah"s and nary a "thank you") Harvey comes around, attaching himself to "Portuguese" Manuel, the guy who fished him out of the drink.
Manuel, which everyone except (barely) Spencer Tracy pronounces like a Chilton's Auto Repair guide, becomes a father figure to young Harvey, who learns about life and work and friendship while working alongside him.
I know Tracy won an Oscar for this and everything, but to me, this picture belongs to Freddie, the most natural cryer ever, and Melvyn Douglas. Douglas is so understated and wonderful as the father who learns how much his son has grown, knowing that he was not the one who helped him, but respecting that it happened. I defy anyone to get through the last 20 minutes of this film without at least tearing up.
Fun Fact: The title of the book on which this film is based comes from the opening lines of the English ballad, "Mary Ambree," a song about a female ship captain** who fought against Spain in 1584: "When captains courageous, whom death could not daunt." Rudyard Kipling meant it as a paean to businessmen, whom he saw as the new adventurers. The only hint of that sentiment in the picture I could tell was when the headmaster tells Mr. Cheyne, "You're rather a nice fellow for a tycoon."
* Seriously, he sounds like Chico Marx
**I'll give $13 (the exact contents of my wallet at the Mo) to the first person who finds me a copy of that ballad and gives me the poop on Mary Ambree.