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Two prisoners, Saint Louis and Dannemora Dan, escape during a theatrical production in order to go to the aid of Steve, a former prisoner whose past is about to be exposed by the man who framed Judy unless Steve agrees to help him commit another crime. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart are "Up the River" in this 1930 film directed by John Ford and also starring Claire Luce and Warren Hymer. The movie makes for tough going, as the print I saw kept skipping and the sound along with it. Well, the movie is nearly 80 years old after all. Bogart is so young-looking in this it boggles the mind. He's actually playing the romantic lead, Steve, a young man from a good family. While in prison for a fight (in which it's implied the other man was killed), he meets a woman named Judy (Luce) who was involved in a shady bond racket. She took the fall for her boss, Frosby (Morgan Wallace). Judy and Steve fall in love, and when his parole comes up, he says he'll wait for her. After being back with his family for awhile, Forsby sets up his racket in town and is cheating Steve's mother. His friends, Saint Louis (Tracy) and Dannemora Dan (Hymer) break out of prison during a variety show and come to his rescue.
I probably liked this better than most of the people who reviewed the movie here. The ongoing problems with the baseball team ("the pitcher got paroled right before the big game") are amusing. I also liked the free-for-all atmosphere of the prison, with the warden's daughter and her dog wandering around the jail yard, friendly with all the prisoners. The warden's a lovable fellow too. I also liked the bit where notes are hidden in the hem of a charity woman's skirt on the women's side, and when she enters the men's yard, they all rush over and dust off her shoes, retrieving the letter at the same time. Finally, there's an ongoing bit based on the fact that Saint Louis deliberately drove off and left Dannemora in the lurch previously. They're now in the same prison together, Saint Louis swearing up and down that he thought the car had a rumble seat.
Besides the bad sound, the film has the usual politically incorrect blackface number. I will say that the black prisoners seemed to be on an equal footing with the whites, if that means anything.
"Up the River" is fascinating, too, for the use of microphones throughout the set and actors needing to be near them. No one really has figured out screen acting yet - Bogart speaks quickly while the woman playing his mother drags out every sentence. Tracy appears very natural, however.
Films had a long way to go. This one was made quickly by a man destined to become one of the screen's greatest directors and two actors who would become two of the greatest stars ever. Humble beginnings.
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