Up The River

  • 1930
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Comedy, Prison

Spencer Tracy made his film debut in this prison comedy which is all but lost today. The film opens with Tracy and his slow-witted sidekick, Hymer, breaking out of jail. They go their separate ways but meet up years later when Tracy sees Hymer preaching in front of a Salvation Army band. Tracy taunts him with shouts of "Crime doesn't pay!" until the fugitive...read more

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Spencer Tracy made his film debut in this prison comedy which is all but lost today. The film opens with Tracy and his slow-witted sidekick, Hymer, breaking out of jail. They go their separate ways but meet up years later when Tracy sees Hymer preaching in front of a Salvation Army band.

Tracy taunts him with shouts of "Crime doesn't pay!" until the fugitive can take no more and swings at Tracy. They brawl and are thrown into prison again, only this time in a medium security lockup that the two have no desire to break out of. Here they have more comforts than home, including

dramatics, a baseball league, and women just on the other side of a dividing wall. Messages are smuggled from one side to the other in the hems of lady reformers who come to the prison. Tracy and Hymer share their cell with Bogart (in his second film appearance), convicted of accidental

manslaughter. Bogart's wealthy New England family does not know of his incarceration, thinking their son is in China, and Bogart wants to keep it that way. He falls in love with Luce, a female convict framed by crooked broker Wallace. When Bogart is released he tries to go straight and wait for

Luce to get out, but Wallace threatens to reveal his past to his parents if he doesn't help him in a corrupt scheme. Bogart doesn't know what to do and asks his friends Tracy and Hymer to help. The two bust out of jail during the talent show, dressed in women's clothes, and make their way to

Bogart. After checking out the situation, they manage to work Wallace's own associates against him, resulting in the crook's death. After receiving the thanks of Bogart, the two men break back into jail just in time for the big baseball game against Sing-Sing.

Tracy was appearing on Broadway in "The Last Mile" at the time and John Ford, who saw the performance, persuaded the actor to take a six-week leave from the production to make a film based on the riots a year earlier at Auburn Prison. Tracy went west, but before the film could get underway, MGM

came out with THE BIG HOUSE, their film based on the Auburn riots. Ford worked quickly then, changing the whole story and reworking it into a comedy. The film was shot in two weeks so that Tracy could get back to New York in time to resume his role. None of the performances are especially

memorable, despite the cast of soon-to-be stars, but the film is still quite entertaining. The usual Ford touches are in evidence, dealing with one of his usual subjects, the society of men cut off from the world. Tracy later recalled this as the most pleasant film he ever worked on, although

Hymer's memories were not so pleasant. For one scene, the actor had to stand against a board while a knife thrower threw knives at him. Hymer was terrified and Ford walked up and asked him, "If I do it, will you?" Embarrassed, Hymer nodded weakly. Ford then took his place and the thrower did his

business. One of the blades caught the director's fingertip, though. Sucking the blood from his finger, Ford asked Hymer if he was ready. Although his knees were shaking, the actor managed to pull off the scene. The film was remade in 1938.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Spencer Tracy made his film debut in this prison comedy which is all but lost today. The film opens with Tracy and his slow-witted sidekick, Hymer, breaking out of jail. They go their separate ways but meet up years later when Tracy sees Hymer preaching in… (more)

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