The 2011 San Francisco Silent Film Festival featured a number of films from well-known directors showing their early expertise in films not seen for many decades. The festival began with John Ford’s 1927 comedy “Upstream.” The plot includes a group of vaudevillians in a boarding house who live as a family until one of them, a complete ham and member of the legendary Brashingham acting family, gets an invitation from an impressario to play Hamlet in London. He becomes a triumph, and receives world adulation. But his pretentions upset the humble vaudevillians at the boarding house.
Ford emphasizes both the boarding house world and the world of celebrity, and so Earle Fox’s performance as the hammy Brashingham leads to a lot of laughs. The story also shows how fame can trump loyalty, since Brashingham only returns to the boarding house as a publicity stunt. The film, if not a classic, makes a charming diversion and worth seeing for Ford’s direction as well as the entertaining acts performed by the boarding house residents.