A Movie A Day: Quint on John Ford's UP THE RIVER (1930)
Extortionist? Honey, was you in the circus?
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
What we have here with today’s AMAD is John Ford’s early comedy, UP THE RIVER, following Spencer Tracy back from yesterday’s marvelous LIBELED LADY.
I came to include this film in the AMAD line-up when I happened upon the John Ford At Fox “Early Comedies” box set at one of my favorite used DVD stores and picked it up. John Ford is an early master who I need to be a lot more familiar with than I am now. Same goes for Preston Sturges and Frank Capra.
UP THE RIVER is the first of the box set that and I find myself sure that this movie is more of a special feature than a real deal part of this box set.
My understanding is this film has long been lost and the DVD starts off with a warning that Fox used the very best original materials available and we’re left with a transfer off of (maybe) an original 16mm print that has been Frankensteined in parts, other prints cut into this one, and at least 4 or 5 scenes that are choppy from rampant splices.
In a way, that made this experience very enjoyable, maybe more enjoyable than watching this film as a pristine print.
It’s an odd flick, one that I can’t really help but consider more of a curiosity than a recommendable film or shining example of anything in particular.
The plot is paper-thin and the characters and tone are lighter than air. Basically you’re following a few different people behind bars. Spencer Tracy (impossibly young, I might add) is the superstar of the prison, someone who is so good at escaping that he might as well have a key to the front gates. Hell, his character’s name is even Saint Louis.
Then there’s Warren Hymer as a character named Dannemora Dan, a nearly retardedly stupid man who becomes kind of a second banana to Tracy’s Saint Louis.
And most importantly (and most interestingly) there’s the character of Steve Jordan, a straight-laced youth who got caught on some small charge and is lying to his ma and sister, saying he’s traveling in China, as he waits out his short sentence. Steve is played by Humphrey Bogart. I used the term “impossibly young” to describe Spencer Tracy in this movie, but I should have saved it for Bogart.
In personality, in temperment and, obviously, in his face this is the young, green Bogart. You can see Bogie there, alright, you can see the charm and the eyes of someone you seriously do not want to fuck with, but it’s more than a little bizarre to see him so young, his face so line-less. There’s a lot of boy still in him in this film, even if he must have been pushing 30 at the time this film was released.
Much like yesterday’s AMAD, there really isn’t a lead character. It could have been Tracy, but Bogart has just as much screentime and the main drama of the movie centers around Bogart’s relationship with Judy (a female inmate held in the same area, but behind another set of bars) played by Claire Luce.
This love story is as simple as you can get. It makes Jack Driscoll’s revelation that he loves Ann Darrow in the original KING KONG look complex. It really isn’t anything more than “Hey, you’re pretty. I want to marry you.” I’m a romantic and I absolutely believe in love at first sight, but that was even a stretch for me.
To add another argument for the curiosity factor of this film, there’s a show-stopping black-face number that appears out of fucking nowhere in the middle of the movie as the inmates put on a show for some rich people. I’m not kidding. A full on minstrel show happens and Ford even cuts to the cheering audience and features a black dude, guffawing at the show and clapping wildly.
I wasn’t offended so much as taken by surprise. It’s definitely bizarre.
And as far as Ford is concerned, his direction here wasn’t very impressive. It was definitely able, but the camera is locked down for most of the movie, going from hard cut to hard cut. There’s not much visual going on to propel the story and the characters aren’t well-written or unique enough to really stand out for me.
Final Thoughts: It’s not a horrible experience, but like I mentioned at the start this film is one I can’t recommend on its own. If you buy any of the Ford At Fox sets, either the mega one or the Early Comedy set, definitely give it a spin as a curiosity, but I would not advise going out and buying it individually.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Sunday, November 9th: DOCTOR BULL (1933)
Monday, November 10th: JUDGE PRIEST (1930)
Tuesday, November 11th: TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965)
Wednesday, November 12th: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)
Thursday, November 13th: DANIEL (1983)
Friday, November 14th: EL DORADO (1967)
Saturday, November 15th: THE GAMBLER (1974)
See you folks tomorrow for another John Ford comedy, DOCTOR BULL, starring Will Rogers and Vera Allen!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Nov. 9, 2008, 1:41 a.m. CST
Nov. 9, 2008, 7:01 a.m. CST
(( Steve Jordan, a straight-laced youth )) Just because I see the error so often: the correct expression is "strait-laced." "Strait" means "tight."
Nov. 9, 2008, 7:39 a.m. CST
Unless you’ve uncovered an alternate version of the film I think you intended to say “Jack Driscoll’s revelation that he loves Ann Darrow”. As Dehnam said when he first met Ann their relationship was “Strictly business”. As to ‘Up the River’ it is an odd viewing experience. The minstrel show sequence carries a very different message to us today but ‘black face’ was still a popular form of entertainment at the time the movie was produced. Al Jolson in the ‘Jazz Singer’ is the classic example but a number of stars like Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby and George Burns appeared in black face. In fact it’s hard to find a 1930’s movie with Eddie Cantor where he doesn’t use burnt cork at some point.
Nov. 9, 2008, 8:08 a.m. CST
by Dr Eric Vornoff
...is from the 1938 remake. As for Ford's direction, the locked-down camera was probably a technical necessity, this was an early talkie after all.
Nov. 9, 2008, 9:33 a.m. CST
Definitely worth a review of his films. Miracle of Morgan Creek is one of his most famous and the one film in which I enjoy Betty Hutton and you have to love a last name like "Kockenlocker." However, you might want to try The Palm Beach Story. Well-written and funny. I'm looking forward to more of your early classics reviews.
Nov. 9, 2008, 1:28 p.m. CST
Agree with you about Preston Sturges, although I will say "The Lady Eve" is the most accessible for modern audiences (since it is a screwball comedy starring the still recognizable names of Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda).
Nov. 9, 2008, 7:01 p.m. CST
Continentalop, I'll buy that. It's another excellent Sturges film and it's interesting to see Henry Fonda in a humorous role for a change. Barbara Stanwyck was great in this as well. A more obscure Sturges is The Sin of Harold Diddlebock with silent comedian great Harold Lloyd. Lloyd fans dislike this film quite a bit but I was pleasantly surprised. Not the greatest Sturges but still some good, funny stuff in it.
Nov. 9, 2008, 8:07 p.m. CST
by Adelai Niska
I'll toss in a recomendation of Sullivan's Travels, which is the one I would think is his most well know. Lady Eve and Miracle of Morgan Creek are the only other of his films I've seen, but both are great
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