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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

UPSTREAM (1927)

From a cache of ‘lost’ films recently found in New Zealand, a serendipitous deadend for a few old film exchanges, comes a charming, little programmer from John Ford, made two years after his breakthrough on THE IRON HORSE/’25. A comic character piece with a romantic triangle at its center, it's set in a theatrical boarding house for has-beens and also-rans which gives Ford lots of opportunities to create a tight community of likable eccentrics. Best of the lot is a vaudeville comedy act, Callahan & Callahan, with an Irish Callahan and a Jewish Callahan. (Look out Gallagher & Shean!) But the main story centers on a Two Guys/One Gal knife throwing act,* and what happens when one of the guys gets a rush call to play Hamlet in London simply because he comes from a famous acting family. That’s about it for the plot, but it’s often cleverly observed stuff, with witty camera work and the briefest of third act wrap ups. Light romantic comedy may be atypical Ford fare,** then again, the studio-bound settings and tight community drama would show up all thru his work, right up to his final film, 7 WOMEN/’66, a film so rarely seen it might as well be considered ‘lost;’ as in lost in plain sight.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *The girl in question, Nancy Nash, did a quick fade after this, but her two suitors, Earle Foxe & Grant Withers could be seen in Ford films for many years. They do well enough here, especially Foxe who goes amusingly ‘high hat’ after his Shakespearean success. But the biggest impression they make is simply being big, that is tall, towering over everyone else in the pic by a foot or more.

DOUBLE-BILL: **And yet one of Ford’s unexpected treasures is THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING/’35 which set up Jean Arthur as one of the great romantic-comedy screen comediennes . . . and she was playing against Edward G. Robinson²!

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