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Frank's Movie Log

My life at the movies.

A still from Up the River (1930)

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. Tracy plays the beloved ace pitcher for a prison baseball team. He’s the sort of inmate who, after returning to prison following a failed escape, assures the warden 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. Once Bogie’s released, Luce’s former partner, a scam artist, gets wind of the romance and blackmails Bogie. Tracy escapes to help Bogie but returns in time 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, uncomfortable with the camera or unable to modulate their delivery. Hence, many films of this era feel stagy.

    In contrast to these stiff, theatrical performances, Tracy’s 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.

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