Saturday, February 23, 2008

Target #192: The Informer (1935, John Ford)

TSPDT placing: #616
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Liam O'Flaherty (novel), Dudley Nichols (writer)
Starring: Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster, Margot Grahame. Wallace Ford, Una O'Connor, J.M. Kerrigan

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

Yet again, early morning television proves an invaluable resource for films that I otherwise would never have been able to track down. At four o'clock in the morning, I stumbled out of bed to begin recording The Informer (1935), my fourth film from prolific American director John Ford, and an excellent one at that. Set during the Irish Civil War in 1922, the screenplay was adapted by Dudley Nichols from the novel of the same name by Liam O'Flaherty. Though he was born in the United States, and is most renowned for his "Americana" pictures, both of Ford's parents were Irish, which explains the director's decision to direct the film. Victor McLaglen plays Gypo Nolan, a brutish but well-meaning ruffian who informs on an old friend, Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford), in order to claim the £20 reward for his girlfriend, Katie (Margot Grahame). When Frankie is killed during his attempted arrest, the Irish Republican Army, of which both Frankie and Gypo were members, begins to investigate the traitor behind the incident, every clue bringing them closer and closer to the real culprit. Meanwhile, Gypo is plagued with guilt for his friend's untimely death, and descends into a bout of heavy-drinking that rivals Don Birnam in The Lost Weekend (1945) in its excessiveness. As Gypo drowns his sorrows in copious volumes of alcohol, trapped in a vicious little circle of depression, his extravagant spending captures the attention of the investigating IRA members. For the one time in his life, Gypo finds himself surrounded by admirers (including an amusing J.M. Kerrigan), who enthusiastically clap him on the back and christen him "King Gypo" for his physical might. However, it's obvious that these people feel no affection for the man, and are simple showing him attention to exploit him for money. The additional £20 brought by Frankie's death could never buy Gypo an assembly of friends – indeed, in a bitter twist of irony, the money was only made possible by the betrayal and loss of one of his only good companions. A relatively simple fellow, Gypo could not possibly have fully considered the consequences of his actions, and is eventually offered forgiveness on account of his "not knowing what he was doing," but his foolishness must not go unpunished.

Criticism is occasionally levelled at Ford's film for its allegedly propagandistic support of a "terrorist" organisation. Though this stance obviously depends on one's personal views {I certainly don't know enough Irish history to pass judgement}, there's no doubt that the film portrays the Irish Republican Army as selfless, dedicated and impartial, a proud piece of Irish patriotism if I ever saw it. However, the main theme of the story is that of betrayal; driven by intense poverty, one ordinary man betrays the confidence of his good friend, and comes to deeply regret his actions. The tormented Gypo is played mainly for pity, and Victor McLaglen gives a powerful performance that betrays a lifetime of unsatisfying existence, culminating in one terrible decision that condemns him to an uneasy death. The Informer was John Ford's first major Oscar success, winning a total of four awards (from six nominations), including Best Actor for McLaglen {who snatched the statue from the three-way favourites of Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)}, Best Director and Best Screenplay for Dudley Nichols {who declined the award due to Union disagreements}.

Currently my #1 film of 1935:
1) The Informer (John Ford)
2) Top Hat (Mark Sandrich)
3) The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock)

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