Up the River (1930) Poster

(1930)

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6/10
early john ford talkie
malcolmgsw3 December 2007
The other reviews posted have concentrated on Tracy and Bogart whilst ignoring the fact that this is a very early talkie from John Ford.Many of the traits which we see in his classic films of the 40s and 50s are evident in a rather primitive form here.Warren Hymer plays a role which in the later era would be played by Victor Mclaglen.Many of the antics of his characters can be seen in later films.For example the horsing around between the managers of the baseball team hitting the others players is used again by Ford in a fight scene in Fort Apache.All of the music and comedy is used many times in the future particularly in the Cavalry trilogy.So to see 3 nascent talents in one film makes it fascinating to watch regardless of the scratches and mutilation of the print.
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7/10
Before They Were Big Names
bkoganbing10 December 2007
Up the River finds Spencer Tracy and Warren Hymer as a pair of amiable convicts who seem to function far better in the prison environment than outside. Later sociologists would call these two institutionalized and would be thinking it's a bad thing.

Ironically I knew someone who was just like that, he'd been arrested on a couple minor beefs and found he really did function better inside jail than out among the populace. I doubt though he would have found the subject matter in Up the River as entertaining as I did.

Prison seems to be a good setting for John Ford's kind of knockabout, roughhouse comedy. Although I doubt you could ever get away with a minstrel act at the prison variety show and find two black convicts in the audience just laughing and applauding even more than the white prisoners.

Humphrey Bogart is in the film as well and he's a trustee and soon to be released. There's a woman's wing in this prison and Bogey and Claire Luce fall for each other. When Bogey gets released though another and sleazier crook played by Morgan Farley spots him in his proper New England town and threatens to tell mom about her son's prison stay. She thinks he's been in China all this time.

Word of this gets out and Tracy and Hymer crash out to help their friend.

This film would be consigned to the garbage heap of Hollywood were it not for the presence of Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart and the direction of John Ford. Ford directs them and the rest of the cast with a sure hand and the film is entertaining even after 77 years and a far more sensitive populace to racial indignity. You have to remember that in 1930 the most popular show on radio was Amos and Andy.

Some will be surprised to see Bogart cast as a young juvenile, Tracy refers to him as a kid even though Tracy was a year younger in real life. In point of fact on stage Bogart played those kind of juvenile parts so those who knew his stage work back in 1930 would not have been surprised. Still it's not the Bogey we're used to.

As for Tracy, Up the River set the pattern for his Fox career and his early films with MGM, playing lovable mugs. That's what you'll see him as for the most part in his Fox period. MGM signed him as a Wallace Beery backup. But when he played Father Tim Mullin in San Francisco it opened up whole new vistas for him as we well know.

Despite its defects Up the River is still a valuable piece of cinema history. Too bad Tracy and Bogey, good friends in real life, never got to work on a joint project when they both became big names.
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7/10
Lousy sound but interesting
blanche-220 June 2008
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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8/10
Even Screen Titans Have To Start Somewhere
theowinthrop10 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Finally after many years this film has reappeared for evaluation by new audiences. It's about time. It was the only film that John Ford directed Humphrey Bogart in, and the only film that Bogie appeared with one actor he really respected (who respected him): Spencer Tracy. Ford would eventually make THE LAST HURRAH with Tracy, with better equipment and production values, and (to be fair) one of the best political screenplays in movie history. But if THE VAGABOND KING has to be taken as symbolic of the changeover of motion pictures to sound, and how it was not a total success at first, so is UP THE RIVER a similar transition film.

Currently it is in a package of twenty movies (surviving films) of Ford made at 20th Century Fox from the 1920s to 1952. In 1930, Ford had at least seven years of heavy movie work behind him, laying the groundwork for his magnificent westerns and regular films like THE GRAPES OF WRATH and HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. But he was just getting used to sound, and while he was more creative than the forgettable director of THE VAGABOND KING, there are moments when you see him struggling to place his performers into position near microphones (the number of scenes of people aimlessly congregating is amazing in this film).

Positively it does show a young Tracy and a young Bogart playing off each other. Less positively Bogart is separated from Tracy for much of the film - Bogart is leaving prison on parole, when Tracy is returned, and Bogie heads back to his home in New England. But problems dealing with a blackmailer forcing Bogart to work in a swindle with him leads to Tracy promising Bogart's prison sweetheart (Claire Luce) that he will help Bogart out. So they do reunited for more scenes (including one odd one - they are on a relaxing hay ride with Bogart's friends).

Bogart is a good guy who killed a man in a fight and was sent to prison as a result. Tracy is a smart-aleck crook, who is teamed usually with occasionally smart, but frequently stupid Warren Hymer (in the beginning of the film Tracy abandons Hymer rather simply by having him check a back tire on their getaway car - one that is not damaged actually). Still Hymer does occasionally trump an amazed Tracy - at a dinner with a clergyman, Hymer's brief period as a member of the Salvation Army proves to be useful. Despite being a smart-aleck, Tracy is actually a decent type, which is why he helps Bogart with the blackmailer.

A number of others are sprinkled in the film. William Collier Sr. is the 40 year life termer at the prison who is now captain of their baseball team. Note the scene where he tries to get Tracy an extra pillow at the expense of either Hymer or Bogart to protect Tracy's arm. Robert Emmett O'Connor, soon to be driven to distraction as the immigration detective chasing the Marx Brothers in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, is the warden here. The prison is a prison to the men, but they are not a bad bunch and do thank the warden for his efforts for them (including putting on a yearly show of their own talents). I suspect that O'Connor's character (although the prison is in the mid-west) is based somewhat on the leading American prison warden penologist of that period: Warden Lewis Lawes of Sing Sing Prison. Lawes did everything he could to try to make Sing Sing a real place for rehabilitation, and was even an early outspoken (and eloquent) critic of the death penalty. Remembered only by criminal historians and penologists today, he was a very famous man in 1930.

One problem with the film is that African-Americans will find the use of a minstrel act in the prison show is actually offensive (although Ford shows a tall African-American prisoner enjoying the humor). On the other hand, those African-American prisoners who are in there mix and mingle pretty easily with the white prisoners. Ford was ahead on that point.

Another problem is due, possibly, to deteriorating film stock. Sequences in the film jump - dialog is lost. Also a plot point - the associates of the blackmailer warn him not to try to cheat them or else. He is later followed into his office late at night by these suspicious associates. We never (now) see if they carry out their threat.

Two other people who appear are Ward Bond as a bullying prisoner, put in his place by Bogart and Tracy (Bogart would re-team with Bond eleven years later in THE MALTESE FALCON, on friendlier terms). The other is Bob Burns, the "Arkansas Traveller" musician and comedian whose career really took off in the later 1930s. Burns is part of the minstrel show, in black-face (unfortunately), but he is playing his famous "bazooka" musical instrument.
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7/10
Great Classic 1930 Film
whpratt110 December 2007
The famous Director, John Ford presented a great 1930 film starring Spencer Tracy, (Saint Louis) who plays the role as a big time crook who has gone in and out of correctional facilities and he encounters Humphrey Bogart, (Steve) who is also a convict in the same prison. A pretty young blonde gal named Judy, (Claire Luce) becomes a prisoner and meets Steve and they become immediately attracted to each other and Steve has only a few weeks before he is released. There is plenty of comedy in this film and it is great to see how very young Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart appear in this film who were just starting out on their great careers on Hollywoods Silver Screen. John Ford made another film with Spencer Tracy after twenty-eight years and Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart never made another picture appearing in the same picture. There is great acting by the entire cast and do not miss this film, it is worthwhile to enjoy this great entertainment.
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I consider myself lucky to have this on tape.
Glenn Andreiev6 February 2001
UP THE RIVER is a landmark in many aspects. It's the feature film debut for both Humphrey Bogart AND Spencer Tracy. It is the only time these two lifelong friends worked together. John Ford wanted to make a prison drama, but MGM, the bigger studio had plans for THE BIG HOUSE. John turned his prison film into a comedy, with convict Spencer Tracy breaking IN and OUT of prison at will. My video copy is off a 16mm print that was surely on it's way out. Through the scratches, breaks in the film, Bogies and Spence's screen presence explode on the screen. You know stardom is around the corner for both.
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5/10
Fascinating but not especially memorable
MartinHafer21 December 2007
This is a film that can best be appreciated by old movie buffs and film historians instead of someone watching it for its aesthetic value. If you had seen this movie at the time it was made, you never would have suspected that this film was the work of one of Hollywood's greatest directors (John Ford) and featured two mega-stars (Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart). That's because all were early in their careers and they were still years from being recognized for their talents. While John Ford had been in Hollywood for some time, he had yet to make his mark. 1930 marked the beginning of Tracy's Hollywood career--having starred in three minor films earlier that year without any particular distinction. And finally, Humphrey Bogart was in his second film--his first where he actually got billing (having appeared many years earlier in a film as an extra). All three were far from their later polished selves, but it sure was fascinating seeing this film because of its historical pedigree. And, because of their future greatness, this film was a training ground--helping to mold them into stars and a top-notch director.

Now if you ignore all this, the film is a very routine film and my rating of 5 might just be a tad generous. Bogart talks too fast but is otherwise fine and Tracy just comes off as a jerk. Probably the most interesting acting performance in this little film was Warren Hymer as the dumb but likable comedy relief. As for Ford, it's obvious that this was a quickly made B-film because a few scenes should have been re-shot--actors flubbing their lines and yet it was allowed to remain in the film. The plot, is mildly fun but not especially memorable.

There are a few bizarre moments here and there in the film and most of them happen in this rather luxurious and happy prison. First, the warden's young daughter (about 7 or so) hangs out with the prisoners and doesn't seem to be watched by anyone. Fine parenting, huh? Also, men and women are housed in the same prison--with not very much separating them! Finally, the prison seems like a pretty nice place to live--with baseball games, social workers handing out treats and everyone getting along like one big happy family! No wonder Tracy and Hymer didn't mind being sent back to prison!!

The plot has been discussed in other reviews, so I'll leave it to them. I do need to point out, though, that there is a serious problem with the quality of the movie. Because it was old and mostly forgotten, the print shown on Turner Classic Movies is still absolutely horrid and probably beyond restoration because repeatedly bits and pieces of the film are simply missing. As a result, scenes are often VERY choppy and you miss a lot of the dialog. It looked as if they'd decided to just randomly chop out about 5 minutes of the film and do it in 10 or 20 second bursts! TCM almost always shows the very best available prints, so I'd assume that the DVD of this film which was just released in the John Ford Mega-set is also choppy and difficult to watch.
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5/10
"Remember who you're playin' with, a bunch o' crooks."
classicsoncall29 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Humphrey Bogart in his first screen role and Spencer Tracy in one of his earliest are about the only reasons to take in "Up The River", a blend of prison drama and comedy that really doesn't satisfy very well. Tracy's character is Saint Louis, a virtual celebrity inmate who's on a handshake basis with the warden and handles his incarceration like a country club stay. His partner, Dannemora Dan (Warren Hymer) is more of a foil for Tracy's antics, which include breaking out of prison at will.

When first introduced to Bogart's character Steve Jordan, it appears that he's an officer at the prison, but in reality he's a clerk inmate. While processing a contingent of female prisoners, he's smitten by the pretty Judy (Claire Luce), and vows to wait for her on the outside once he's paroled.

The central plot involves Steve's blackmail by an unscrupulous businessman back home in New England. Steve's family believes he's been away on work in China, and the revelation will devastate his mother and sister. The solution - Saint Louis and Dannemora need to break out of prison to come to the aid of their buddy; they do so during a blackout scene following a talent show.

With things patched up for Steve, Saint Louis and Dan need to break back into the prison, because after all, the Bensonatta Penitentiary baseball team needs their talents in the big game against State's Prison. For all the buildup about the outcome of the game, the ending leaves you flat as the scene fades on Tracy and Hymer even before a pitch can be thrown.

There are some interesting scenes in "Up The River" - the warden's young daughter is allowed free access in the prison yard among the convicts, and this doesn't seem to be cause for concern with anyone. She is loosely supervised by a coterie of women's auxiliary matrons. It brought a chuckle to see the inmates passing notes by feigning their help for the chief matron, while pinning a note on the underside of her ankle length gown.

Bogart's portrayal is a bit stiff in this film as he hasn't found his own personality yet. Tracy on the other hand has already become fairly self assured and carries off his role with some fun. But as mentioned earlier, the film ultimately fails to satisfy, and is better approached as a work in progress for two superstars in training.
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8/10
Great fun
ctomvelu15 December 2011
Wonderfully entertaining comedy drama about two prisoners (Bogart and Luce) who fall in love and what happens after Bogart is paroled. Spencer Tracy plays a flamboyant convict who comes to their aid when the two lovebirds are threatened by some very bad men. Lighthearted fun, set in a prison only Hollywood could dream up. An early John Ford talkie,this was made when and Bogart and Tracy were at the beginning of their careers. They are a blast to watch, and Luce is charming as a timid young woman who has been imprisoned on the flimsiest of charges. Some great comedic moments. A must-see for fans of two of the greatest actors of the 20th century.
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Worth seeing only for Bogart & Tracy fans
wrbtu18 November 2001
I'm a fan of old 1930s movies, but this one really has nothing going for it except a very young Humphrey Bogart & Spencer Tracy. The movie's 92 minutes long, of which about 30 minutes consists of song & dance numbers (amateurish, to say the least) & a prisoners baseball game (with no real baseball action). Heavy on the comedy, but with only 1 or 2 chuckles. Warren Hymer is poor as the comic relief. Spencer is good & his natural delivery is in evidence here. Bogey is fine, playing a guy younger than Spencer (he's actually a year older), & this is one of the only movies where Bogey actually has a parent (a dear old mom); only "Dead End" comes to mind as a role for him with a parent. He's very good, but a little awkward at times, & he overdoes it a bit in one emotional scene near the end. It's very strange seeing Bogart play a romantic part in a standard Hollywood (soft) way, compared with his tough guy romances in his later films. A couple of other striking features of this film: there's only about 3 male & 1 female black prisoners in the jail, & there seemed to be such a "shortage" of black actors available, that they needed two white guys to do a blackface minstrel routine! The Woman's Auxiliary & the warden's daughter walk around the prison yard & mingle with the prisoners unescorted, as if they were at some sort of country club! Bogey gets to nervously shift pebbles from hand to hand in one scene; I wonder if he drew on this experience 24 years later for his similar actions as Lieutenant Commander Queeg in "The Caine Mutiny"? Claire Luce is suitably good as the romantic interest; Joan Marie Lawes is also good as the precocious warden's daughter. The plot, if there is one, is seriously underdeveloped amidst the song & comedy routines, & the expected ending is oddly left hanging without real resolution. I give it 2 points for Bogart & 2 points for Tracy, & rate this movie 4/10.
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6/10
A reversal of roles for the two stars
calvinnme21 November 2009
This is an OK film that would probably not be worth watching if it were not for its place in film history - the only pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy and an early performance for the both of them. Here the pair both play a couple of convicts. Bogart is Steve Jordan, finishing up a sentence for manslaughter, and Tracy as Saint Louis is just starting one at the same prison. There are several strange aspects to this film about prison life and what comes afterwards. The first is that Bogart is playing the naive smiling kid whose one punch landed him in prison - you just don't run across a smiling nice-guy Bogart committed to celluloid every day of the week . The second odd aspect is that Tracy is playing a seasoned con, though with a bit of a heart of copper if not gold. It's strange to see Tracy taking "the kid" Bogart under his wing when in fact Bogart was a year older than Tracy. What makes the film better than average is that it is a believable performance by both actors.

The other strange aspect of this film is the depiction of prison life. The women are housed in the same prison as the men with just an iron gate separating the areas where the two groups have outdoor recreation. Bogart, who works in the prison office, gets to wear a suit and tie when he is at work there. The warden's little daughter walks around unguarded and treats the convicts all like uncles, and they reciprocate by treating her like a niece and reading her stories. The whole thing comes across like you are looking at life inside a Catholic high school with strict rules about the interaction of men and women, not a prison where you might have a few characters like Bogart's and Tracy's, but by and large most of these guys didn't get here by dropping out of Sunday school.

The worst part of the film is a rather inane musical number that gets inserted into the film at about the half-way point, with the convicts putting on a show. Ford got better at putting music into his films later on, but here it just intrudes on the plot.

I'd recommend viewing this. It's enjoyable enough, just be aware that the elements are in shaggy shape and that even the restored version by Fox has lots of skipping frames.
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9/10
"There ain't a sinner among you what I can't call brother"
Steffi_P5 January 2009
At the beginning of the talkie era cinema faced a dilemma. No, I'm not referring to the problems of noisy cameras or mikes hidden inside props. I mean that we had to decide whether cinema was going to become a largely verbal medium like the theatre, or whether it was to continue being a visual storytelling form in which sound was simply an extra tool. Of course the answer was a bit of both, although it took a while for that to be discovered, and many of the pictures of this era seem a little awkward because they are too much of one or the other. Up the River is an example of an early talkie which does strike that happy medium, and in fact shows how sound complements and even improves the method of its director, John Ford.

But before we get onto the technical details, let's take a glance at the social context of this picture. As much as it was a product of the new sound technology, cinema in the early 30s was a product of the depression. This era was surely the apex of sympathetic criminal. This is the cusp of the bootlegging era when criminals became heroes to many as providers of alcohol, and the depression when everyone was a bit more desperate, and crime became an increasingly valid option. So it's no surprise then that the period that gave us gangland dramas like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy also gave us "loveable rogue" comedies like this. Up the River is certainly a fine prison comedy, with all the relevant clichés you could wish for – the clued-up professional inmate who even has the respect of the guards, the honest kid who killed a man in a fight, and of course not a genuine thug in sight. It should also come as no surprise that the screenplay is by Maurine Dallas Watkins, who also wrote "Chicago", the play upon which the Oscar-winning musical was based.

But anyway, back to Ford and sound. One of the problems with Ford's silent pictures was his tendency to slow the narrative down with improvised comedy business, which weren't always funny and tended to unbalance the story. He still does the same thing here, but the comedy works better with sound. Normally if you get a group of people to improvise something funny, it tends to be verbal and character-based – not many people will tend towards slapstick or sight gags. But if you can have dialogue without title cards, the humour works a lot better, and also mixes better with the action - you don't get that story-on-hold feel you did with the comic diversions in Ford silents.

And sound also allows what was to become one of the most important (albeit overlooked) aspects of Ford's pictures – the singsong scene. Ford's characteristic use of music seems to have arisen partly out of the circumstances of the era. Now that pictures were no longer required to have a continuous backing score, many of these very early talkies actually did away with any kind of music other than diagetic (that is, originating in the film's world, for example from a radio or marching band), as is the case with Up the River. Although this would of course change over the next few years, Ford would continue to give prominence to diagetic music, and was especially against incidental music overlapping with dialogue. This is evidenced in the later pictures which Ford produced himself, or if you want a more direct comparison, get a DVD of My Darling Clementine with both Ford's pre-release cut and the theatrical version.

But it isn't just where the music comes from in Ford's sound pictures, it's what goes on with while it plays. In virtually every Ford sound picture (especially the dozen or so scripted by Dudley Nichols, who seems to have been on a similar wavelength) the emotional heart of the film is during a piece of diagetic music, usually a community singsong of some kind, which forms the backdrop for a bit of wordless imagery. And this aspect of Ford's cinema appears fully developed in Up the River, which contains several musical set-pieces which are irrelevant to the plot yet add a layer of poignancy that would otherwise be missing. The way Ford scans across the faces of the inmates during the "Mother" number would be echoed time and again in his later pictures.

Of course Up the River is also significant for its cast, containing both Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart before anyone had really heard of them. It's ironic that Bogart is theoretically the romantic lead although the way the story is balanced he is effectively a supporting player, given that he would spend most of the thirties in supporting roles whereas Tracy would soon emerge as a lead man. They act superbly in spite of their inexperience. The key scene for both is when Bogart has just found out his mother has been conned, and Tracy talks him out of doing anything about it. In a long continuous take, Warren Hymer (who is a purely comic character) is gently eased out of the frame, allowing the two future stars to just get on with it – and both give powerful performances.

In conclusion, this picture goes to show that not everyone took "two steps back" when the talkies arrived. Ford was not afraid of the coming of sound, but neither did he let is detract from the visual element of his pictures. Up the River is an unheralded triumph of the early sound era, and an underrated gem of Ford's career.
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6/10
In the Beginning, There Was the Cellulose.....
Robert J. Maxwell21 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This wouldn't be much more than a routine early comedy except for its historical interest. I mean, a John Ford talkie, the debuts of Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart.

Tracy and Warren Hyman, two roughnecks, break out of prison, meet again in Kansas City, get into a fist fight in public, wind up back in the slams again. Here they meet Humphrey Bogart, a nice kid from a good family who is taking the rap for someone else. Bogart meets a pretty blond inmate from the women's section, a victime of a frame, and they fall for each other.

Bogart is released and goes home to wait for his girl to be sprung. (His family thinks he's been in China.) But the dirty rat for whom the blond took the fall shows up and threatens to expose Bogart unless he pimps some phony stocks. Bogart is in a quandary. Hearing of this, Tracy and Hyman break out again and visit Bogart's home in New England. After they straighten things out, they cheerfully go back to the prison in time for the big baseball game.

Bogart is unexceptional in his one-dimensional role. Tracy is rather a fuller character. Both were to have distinguished careers but in this early film Bogart seemed to be still learning his craft while Tracy was already what he would be later.

Warren Hymer is stuck in the role of the dummy and is the source of much of what humor there is. When he and Tracy are first invited into Bogart's upper-class home for dinner, they meet Bogart's family and Tracy is self-conscious. Hymer, though, is swept up into the prevailing decorum and rushes to help Bogart's mother into her chair, while Tracy gawks in silence. And when Hymer completes Mom's saying grace, Tracy drops his spoon in amazement.

There are minor Fordian touches. Before a game, the manager explains to the visiting team of prisoners that certain actions are not allowed -- and he demonstrates each of them on the team. (Cf., "Rio Grande.") The inmates put on a show and one of them sings the sentimental ditty "Mother." ("M is for the million things she gave me...") And Ford pans slowly across the faces of the audience as they tear up. And he seems to be serious.

But, overall, the story is nothing to write home about and one gets a sense that, Tracy aside, the chief elements were yet to hit their stride. It's not a bad movie. It's just nothing special.
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Tracy and Bogart
Michael_Elliott28 February 2008
Up the River (1930)

** (out of 4)

John Ford's prison comedy has been forgotten in the director's filmography and what limited knowledge people have about it is more with its stars. Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart made their first big splash on the big screen here and this would be the only film they'd do together. In the film, Bogart falls in love with a female prisoner (Claire Luce) and they plan to get married once she gets paroled but a man from her past comes after Bogart once he's released from jail. Needing help, two buddies (Tracy, Warren Hymer) escape from prison and go after the man. There's also a subplot dealing with a big baseball game between two prisons but this doesn't get too much attention. I was left pretty disappointed with this film because Ford's direction really doesn't bring too much life to the screenplay, which, to the director's credit, is all over the place. It starts off as a comedy but then we switch gears to a rather strange drama. Some of this might be due to Ford having the screenplay rewritten after MGM's The Big House stole some of his ideas. The final thirty minutes drag by pretty badly as this is the same time that the laughs stop. There's some funny stuff early on including one scene where the men are getting ready for bed, four to a cell, and they realize they only have three pillows. Tracy's film debut is a very good one and I was shocked to see that Tracy personality on full display at such an early time in his career. That street tough attitude mixed with his cocky side comes off very well here. I was also shocked at Bogart who certainly isn't playing what we'd come to see in the future. Here he's constantly smiling, getting pushed around and I guess you'd say he plays a real dork. He's actually very good here, which shocked me since some of his pre-fame roles feature him looking pretty silly. From what I read, Bogart and Ford hated one another after Bogart called the director "Jack" so this was sadly the only film they made together. The Fox DVD of this is in incredibly bad shape with some jumps in the print and cuts in the soundtrack.
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8/10
Good Movie
Bob_Zerunkel21 November 2010
I do not agree with the supporters, nor the detractors, of the movie. It's not a classic. It's just a movie, and movies are meant to entertain. If you like old movies, this is a good one. Sure, Ford, Bogart, Tracy and others were not known for this type of film, but who cares? Sure, there are technical problems, and "talkies" were not yet perfected, but who cares. Sure, the comedy may not be your cup of tea, but that is what they did back then. Back then, audiences expected musical numbers, and this one provides some. Back then, action was very hard to pull off, and the baseball scenes show the problems they were dealing with. I enjoyed the heck out of it, and I will gladly watch it again. The only reason I gave it an 8 is because it is a bit damaged and incomplete, but I would watch this if it was substantially more incomplete.
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6/10
Fun start to two great careers
utgard1412 June 2017
Early talkie with an interesting lineup that features two huge stars (Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart) making their first credited feature film. John Ford directs this light drama about the goings-on at a prison. Bogart plays a prison trustee who falls for a female prisoner. He's paroled and the two plan to get married when she gets out. But her former partner in crime tries to ruin their happy ending. Enter Spencer Tracy and Warren Hymer as two likable convicts who break out of prison to help Bogie. A lot of excitement about a prison baseball game, too.

Tracy and Hymer are terrific. Surprised no one thought to team them up in more comedies but it's probably better for all of us that they didn't or else we might not have gotten some of the classics Tracy made. Bogie is such a baby face in this. He really aged a lot by the time his star took off. Early appearance by Ward Bond in a John Ford movie. William Collier, Sr. is fun as veteran inmate Pop. Entertaining, pleasant-going movie that makes prison seem like a nice way to spend your summer!
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7/10
Future film icons in their first feature
SimonJack6 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not aware of the details of how this movie was put together. But, going on a century later, the selection of the cast seems almost uncanny. John Ford had made more than 70 films – features and shorts, since his start in 1917. And here, two relative newcomers to cinema – both of whom would become major stars and be enshrined in silver screen history, get their first big roles in their first feature length film. Before this, Spencer Tracy had made just three shorts, and Humphrey Bogart had been in two shorts.

Other reviewers discuss the plot, and I have nothing different to add. Except, that I do wonder if prison activity was anything like some of what we see in this film. Were there prisons in the U.S. where a warden's young daughter could be in the prison courtyard with prisoners all around, and be getting instruction from a female inmate? Where there prisons in the U.S. that housed men and women in the same facility?

This film is a good and entertaining comedy, crime and drama story. It's not too deep, and the comedy especially in the light-hearted persona of Tracy's Saint Louis, is amusing. He comes across as more of a likable character than as a blowhard. And, Bogart's Steve Jordan is an almost sweet guy. He smiles a lot and seems like a good Joe – a nice look at the young actor (age 30 at the time) before he developed the more serious and stern persona for which he became known.

This also was the first film appears of Claire Luce. Her part isn't developed as well as it could have been. It seems as though something with her in it may have been cut toward the end. It's awkward how she just reappears toward the end when she's getting released from prison, and doesn't seem to expected Steve to be waiting for her. A piece of script must have wound up on the cutting room floor. Luce made only a handful of movies and appeared in several TV series in the 1950s. But, she had a long career on Broadway.

The seven stars I give the film are mostly for its cast and crew. It's the first feature film of the two men who would become icons of Hollywood over the next three decades. And, they just happen to have one of the great directors of all time for their feature film appearance together. Someone else noted that while Tracy and Bogart were friends, they never made another film together. Strange, indeed. But, Hollywood for sure (i.e., strange as well).
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6/10
So-so
zetes5 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
John Ford directs this prison comedy that hasn't held up all that well. Physically, I mean (mostly). A lot of it seems to have been damaged, which leaves the print Fox has included in their Ford set very choppy and sometimes hard to follow. That's not its only problem, though. I liked a lot of it, but it's pretty uneven and, well, you know Ford and comedy. Comedy was not his best area of focus, and the comedy here, while not his worst work, is kind of lame. The film is most famous for being Humphrey Bogart's feature length debut - he was only 31! I've never seen the guy so young (younger than I am!). It's also the only film in which Bogart co-starred with Spencer Tracy (Bogie would sign with Warner Brothers soon afterward, while Tracy stayed at Fox). Tracy and his buddy Warren Hymer are two goofy criminals who are in and out of prison. They meet up with Bogie, a rich boy who accidentally killed a man in a fight. He's been able to keep his prison term away from his family. Bogie has fallen in love with Claire Luce (who is really gorgeous), a prisoner in the women's prison next door. When Bogart gets released, Luce's former partner in crime threatens to reveal his crime, and Tracy and Hymer escape to help him out. If this film were more focused, it could have been pretty good. As it is, it's not exactly bad, just weak.
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4/10
A Comedy Drama
Richard Chatten26 September 2017
John Ford enjoyed sufficient stature by 1930 for the opening credits to read "John Ford's 'Up the River'", although his direction doesn't indicate much interest on his part in the rambling plot; despite plenty of exteriors, and photography of the high standard one would expect from Ford's frequent collaborator Joseph August, it all feels very stagey (according to the credits it had been originally staged by William Collier Sr., who plays 'Pop').

At the time 'Variety' said the film had "No cast names to draw", but in retrospect it's the cast that has maintained the reputation of this potboiler during the many years that it was lost. Spencer Tracy was starting at the top in feature films by playing the lead, and in their only film together he is supported by a fourth-billed Humphrey Bogart in only his second. Tracy's star quality is immediately apparent (although better exploited three years later in the far superior '20,000 Years in Sing Sing'), but Fox plainly didn't have a clue what to do with Bogart, who was too strange-looking (and sounding) to make a conventional leading man. The most entertaining performance as usual comes from Warren Hymer, while Ford devotees will have fun spotting Ward Bond lumber across the screen a couple of times before getting socked by Tracy in one of many glowering bit parts he was playing at this time.
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7/10
Cellmates Forever
lugonian3 September 2017
UP THE RIVER (Fox, 1930), directed by John Ford, has nothing to do with a show boat floating through place to place on the Mississippi River, but in convict's terms as someone who's "sent to prison." Basically a comedy-drama, the movie itself has very little significance except for it being the feature film introduction to future screen legends, Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart, in their only movie together. Being a buddy/buddy type of movie in the tradition of Fox's own Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe, UP THE RIVER uses the same premise of sorts between Tracy and fellow studio contract player, Warren Hymer, as both leading man's good friend and comic foil.

At a state's prison in the south, Saint Louis (Spencer Tracy) and Dannemora Dan (Warren Hymer) are making a prison break. As they enter an automobile, Louis takes off leaving Dan behind after tricking him into checking the back tire. Later in Kansas City, Dan is seen with a band of Salvation Army people preaching goodness and forgiveness for others, only to forget himself when he sees Louis in the crowd of spectators, followed by a fight. Back in prison, this time at Bensonatta in the Midwest, Louis and Dan share the same cell with a baseball coach called "Pop" (William Collier Sr.) and Steve Jordan (Humphrey Bogart), a rich young man serving time for murder, leaving his family back home to believe he's away in China. About to be paroled in a few months, Steve, who has an office job, meets and interviews a new inmate, Judy Fields (Claire Luce, in movie debut), sentenced to three years in the woman's section of the nearby prison. Steve falls in love with Judy and wants to marry her upon her release. After Steve's parole, he returns to his New England home, unaware he's being followed by Frosby (Morgan Wallace), the man who framed Judy, and is out to blackmail him or expose his whereabouts to his family. When Louis learns of Steve's situation through Judy's letter, he and Dan make another escape to help their former cellmate out of a jam. Other members of the cast consist of George MacFarlane (John Jessup); Louise MacIntosh (Mrs. Massey, the social worker); and Richard Keene (Dick). Look fast for familiar faces in smaller roles as Ward Bond as the prison bully, and Bob Burns as an inmate named Slim.

While the plot about prison inmates bonding and helping one another in their time of need is believable, the original story by Maurine Watkins, asks its viewers to accept this to be a prison which seems more like a college campus. Other than having a baseball team as a recreation, and a annual show consisting of minstrels named Black and Blue doing comedy routines, and Morris (Gaylord Pendleton) singing a sad "Mother" song, there's also a child named Jean (Jean Marie Lawes), the warden's (Robert Emmett O'Connor) little daughter, who both plays with the convicts and asks and replies to their riddles.

Being a sort of movie one would never believe would ever get to see again, UP THE RIVER has finally surfaced on cable television, including BRAVO (1987); The Disney Channel (1988); Fox Movie Channel and finally Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 10, 2007, and availability on DVD with John Ford's other feature, WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME (1950) on its flip side. (On a personal level, the DVD edition should have had on the flip side, BORN RECKLESS (1930), also directed by John Ford with Warren Hymer in the cast instead). The major flaw and concern with circulating prints of UP THE RIVER is its constant jumping both in dialogue and story actions, indicating missing material in between scenes, shortening its original 92 minute length to its now available 84 minutes.

While Tracy and Hymer collaborated again in GOLDIE (Fox, 1931) opposite Jean Harlow, the idea of their future pairing ended there. No longer a team, Hymer appeared in other Tracy starring movies as 20,000 YEARS IN SING-SING (First National, 1933), DANTE'S INFERNO (Fox, 1935) and SAN FRANCISCO (MGM, 1936), either in smaller or uncredited bit parts. Revamped with same title by 20th Century-Fox (1938) starring Preston Foster, Phyllis Brooks and Tony Martin, the original UP THE RIVER remains a major curiosity due to the presence of both Tracy and Bogart under its direction by John Ford more than anything else. (***)
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1/10
Hilariously bad.
bobwen20 November 2010
Watching this tonight on TCM was like rubbernecking an auto accident between 2 clown-mobiles where no one got hurt. This film is bad on so many levels. It can't seem to decide if it wants to be a musical or a drama, with far too much (bad) music for a drama, and far too little (bad) music for a musical. The plot is almost non-existent, the dialog clumsy, and any sort of wrapping up of the story is left up to the viewer. Sound was still new, so I'll pass over the bad sound effects and some off-mic dialog, but the cinematography is terrible with the top of peoples' heads regularly cut off, and sometimes missing everything above their chins! There are some (bad) jokes, but Bogart & Tracey manage to give decent performances despite all of the above. Add to this nearly constant splices (from lost or damaged film) which resembles a Benny Hill sketch. This is definitely one to miss unless you're a hardcore early talkies film buff, or are a big fan of Tracey and/or Bogie and want to see the start of their careers... or you are stoned and looking for some off-beat and unintentional laughs.
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4/10
Needlessly padded crime-comedy does boast two soon-to-be stars
moonspinner5523 October 2015
Pre-Code John Ford prison movie with comedy and musical asides has paroled convict Humphrey Bogart waiting for girlfriend Claire Luce to be sprung, being blackmailed by a scam artist on the outside and seeking help from Spencer Tracy, who's just busted out of the pen. Despite some wry, trenchant humor--and the appeal of seeing Bogart and Tracy in their only film together--this is mainly a curiosity item, one with a creaky on-stage music interlude. Writing credit goes to Maurine Dallas Watkins, but Ford's touch is very much in evidence (he reportedly reworked the script with another writer). The acerbic asides are very funny...and some of the wobbly character comedy is as well. Remade in 1938 with Preston Foster and Tony Martin. ** from ****
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Up The River Without a Storyline
GManfred21 July 2008
This film must be viewed with an eye towards its atavistic value, because it is almost inconceivable that the great John Ford could put his name on such a vapid piece of film-making. Script, plot and continuity are all found wanting. The only reason to watch it is to see the feature debuts of Tracy and Bogart, both looking very young and energetic.

I do not like movies with comic book stories as they do not help to 'suspend your disbelief', in the words of critic Kenneth Tynan, but this film is a mess and has to be seen to be believed. We hardcore fans do not mind movies that are severely out of date, as long as they are well done.This one, however, does not qualify on any level.
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4/10
Prison comedy/drama with early star performances.
mark.waltz4 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
It is very amusing to see Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy extremely early in their film careers here. They truly were novices at the time of making this now creaky and sadly slightly offensive film. This was the year of "The Big House", MGM's prison drama that was gritty and raw, and then very daring. John Ford had directed over a hundred films by this time, but Fox's sound and photography departments were not all that great in making their early talkies move really fast (with the exception of a few musicals). Bogart and Tracy aren't really a team here; Tracy works more with Warren Hymer, as part of a comedy team, while Bogart is the romantic hero, paired with a female convict (Claire Luce). Like his real life upbringing, Bogart comes from a well-to-do family, and Luce's former boss (Morgan Wallace), who framed her for his crimes, uses that to try and get Bogart involved in his racket. Tracy and Hymer team together to escape from prison and help Bogart escape Collier's clutches. That's basically all there is.

There is a prison talent show in the middle of the film that has one of the most offensive uses of black-face I've ever seen in film. It makes Jolson's "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule" sequence in "Wonder Bar" appear tame by comparison. It's not even the act that is offensive; It is the interspersing of a black inmate laughing at the comedy duo's antics, giving the message that the blacks of the time found black-face acceptable. I think some poor extra got the shaft by being paid to sit in front of a camera and laugh, not knowing how that would end up being used. I shook my head in disgust at the inclusion of such a travesty. It may be 80 years later, and I'm glad these things are shown just to reveal how wrong and ridiculous they were to be considered entertainment in the first place.

This is probably recommended viewing for film students if only because of the two future mega stars and its major director, plus the sociological implications of the film. There is some good dialog with the women prisoners, and a supposedly wealthy do-gooder (Edythe Chapman) who shows kindness to the prisoners by visiting them with gifts, which adds a sudden humanity. The interaction of the warden's very young daughter with male prisoners may seem strange, but has some amusement to it. There are some nice character bits as well. But the print is so choppy with a lot of dialog glitches that general classic movie fans should be warned of this and other faults before viewing. Fortunately, it's part of a double bill on DVD with "When Willie Comes Marching Home", so its not a total loss.
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5/10
Set in those long ago days of yesteryear . . .
Edgar Allan Pooh15 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
. . . barely remembered by any Americans alive today, UP THE RIVER documents an era virtually incomprehensible now. If a starting major league baseball pitcher made a key error, he was sent to the state pen (NOT the bullpen, like he would be today). If he was caught shaving runs, it was straight to Death Row, as is the case with "St. Louis" (Spencer Tracy) in UP THE RIVER. (By the time of this story, St. Louis has pitched well enough for his prison team to be off Death Row.) UP THE RIVER has illustrations of what an employers' market it was 80 years ago from other walks of life, as well. Take musicians, for instance. One inadvertent squeak or missed entrance, and it was off to prison with you, Mozart. Every state pen had its own marching band, whose players practiced and practiced in an effort to earn commutations. (The prison band featured in UP THE RIVER is a piccolo short, which makes their constant renditions of STARS AND STRIPES FOREVEAR ill-advised!) The surviving prints of UP THE RIVER are in such bad condition that they would have burned them and be done with it, except that director John Ford is breaking in Big Screen newbies by the names of Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy.
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