14 June 2011 | bkoganbing
Training Britain's Merchant Marine
Although Lord Jeff came out the same year as Boys Town and is essentially the same story, what this film lacks is the star quality presence of Spencer Tracy. It also could be compared to Captains Courageous where Mickey Rooney and Freddie Bartholomew play the same characters.
Charles Coburn is the father figure here, head of a Thomas John Barnardo school which populate the British Isles and which were set up by the late Irish philanthropist, (he was Irish despite that name, just like Eamon DeValera).
The title comes from Bartholomew's character whom when we first meet is a spoiled kid living in luxury. However he's an orphan kid whom a pair of crooks, George Zucco and Gale Sondergaard, use as a shill for their thieving rackets. Scotland Yard arrests and exposes Bartholomew, but the adults get away.
The judge gives Bartholomew a break sending him to Barnardo school, one in this case that is a quasi-military institute that trains men for the Navy and Merchant Marine. In a country like Britain which depends on the sea and has the great naval tradition this is an important task the school undertakes.
Bartholomew is as tough a nut to crack as he was aboard Lionel Barrymore's fishing boat in Captains Courageous and as Mickey Rooney was in Boys Town. But Rooney's in this film as well and he's the mentor kid who whips Bartholomew in line.
If you've seen Boys Town you know the bad influences come back and they have to be dealt with. I'll save that for your viewing pleasure.
Herbert Mundin who usually played funny little milquetoast characters is the old sea salt who teaches seamanship and discipline to the kids. This was an interesting change of parts for him and he acquits himself admirably in a different persona. You'll also see a very young Peter Lawford as one of the kids, this was one of his earliest films.
The finale takes place aboard the new Cunard liner the Queen Mary. All in all Lord Jeff is a fine family film from MGM.