Upstream finds Ford between two phases of his career. He had recently made his name with the western blockbuster the Iron Horse and followed up with Three Bad Men. He would next enter a more self-consciously artistic phase, influenced like his fellow Fox directors by the arrival of F. W. Murnau to make Sunrise. The influence would become apparent in films like Four Sons, released in 1928. Upstream was Ford's only 1927 release, which makes it hard to excuse the slapdash nature of the story. He seems confused over whether Brasingham is the main character or whether he was making an ensemble piece. I suspect he'd rather have done the latter, but he's stuck following Brasingham to London, where a vision of his momentary mentor inspires his to triumph, and then back to America and a closing humiliation that makes this one-hour feature feel more like a slapstick short subject where the star acts out a fantasy only to be kicked back into his rightful place. Actually, Brasingham isn't kicked into his rightful place, since he'll go on being a star, but since the other two legs of the triangle haven't gotten an equal share of development, Upstream feels like a star vehicle for the otherwise-unknown-to-me Earle Foxe -- whom Ford used as late as My Darling Clementine. I often credit early movies for telling stories efficiently, but for once this is one that really does feel too short. Still, there's a certain indisputable charm to the film that isn't just the glamor of discovery. Upstream isn't really an unearthed treasure, but there's a pleasant shock of recognition to it when you realize that, however an unlikely setting this seems for a John Ford picture, the director really does seem to be in his element. Watching it is like removing a layer of his legend, getting past the man who made westerns to the essential showman at heart.
At least one reviewer at the time saw this pretty much as I did.