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Friday, July 18, 2008

UP THE RIVER (1930)

A treat from the early Talkie days, this John Ford prison drama travesty manages to have its cake & eat it too. Spencer Tracy (totally assured in his debut) and the intensely likable Warren Hymer (in comic slo-think mode) play recidivist cons who break out just to help their high-class pal Humphrey Bogart stay out for good. The story’s one big whopper, but it's impossible not to relax with its goof-ball humor and nicely timed gags featuring do-gooder society ladies mixing with the boys, inter-prison baseball tournaments and a women’s prison right over the fence. It all plays like a happy improvisation, and probably was. Bogie’s still the callow, handsome, lisp-free youth here, so don’t be surprised. Save your shock for the amazing range of racial attitudes on display. Everything from subservient slavey to sassy wiseass to casual integrated acceptance right up thru a blackface stage act. You’ll be scratching your head more than once. But the film is an inexplicably successful bit of tomfoolery

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