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Frank's Movie Log

My life at the movies.

Up the River

1930 | United States | 92 min
  • Watched on Friday Nov 6, 2020 via iTunes
    B-: 4 stars (out of 5)

    Debut feature for both Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart and director John Ford’s best sound picture to date. Tracy plays a prison baseball team’s beloved ace pitcher. He’s the sort of inmate who, after returning to prison following a failed escape, walks into the warden’s office and assures him he’ll give notice before his next attempt.

    Tracy befriends another convict played by Bogart who’s nearing parole. Bogie’s sweet on an inmate in the neighboring woman‘s prison played by Claire Luce. Luce’s former partner, a scam artist, gets wind of the romance and blackmails Bogie once he‘s paroled. Tracy breaks out of prison to help Bogie but returns to pitch in the big game.

    The sound era created a demand for stars capable of delivering dialogue and Hollywood turned to stage actors to fill the gap. Many struggled with the more intimate medium, unable to feel comfortable with the camera or modulate their delivery. Hence, many films of this era feel stagy.

    In contrast to these stiff, theatrical performances, Tracy’s charismatic, natural turn is all effortless charm. Ford helps. Rather than stand and deliver lines, Ford has Tracy tossing a baseball, fidgeting with the warden’s cigar case, playing with a knife… always something to keep him moving.

    The iTunes print is spliced together from multiple sources, replete with sound and frame drops, and numerous scratches. Sadly, it’s the best quality available. That said, for fans of Tracy or Ford, it’s worth seeking out. And look fast for Ward Bond as a bat-toting inmate.