Director: John Ford
Production: RKO/Pictures Inc.; black and white, 35mm; running time: 91 minutes; length: 10 reels. Released 1935.
Producer: Cliff Reid; screenplay: Dudley Nichols, from the novel by Liam O'Flaherty; photography: Joseph H. August; editor: George Hively; sound: Hugh McDowell Jr.; art directors: Van Nest Polglase and Charles Kirk; music: Max Steiner; costume designer: Walter Plunkett.
Cast: Victor McLaglen ( Gypo Nolan ); Heather Angel ( Mary McPhillip ); Preston Foster ( Dan Gallagher ); Margot Grahame ( Katie Madden ); Wallace Ford ( Frankie McPhillip ); Una O'Connor ( Mrs. McPhillip ); J. M. Kerrigan ( Terry ); Joseph Sauers ( Bartly Mulholland );
Awards: Oscars for Best Director, Best Actor (McLaglen), Best Screenplay, Best Score, 1935; Best Screenplay, Venice Film Festival, 1935; New York Film Critics Awards for Best Picture and Best Director, 1935.
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* * *
John Ford was the perfect choice to direct the film version of Liam O'Flaherty's novel about the Sinn Fein Rebellion in Dublin in 1922 as Ford's Irish heritage proved invaluable in setting the background for the film. The Informer was Ford's 74th film as a director and he would do 48 more before his retirement in 1966.
Flaherty's novel was first filmed as an early talkie in Great Britain in 1929 with Lars Hansen in the leading role. Six years later, Ford's version was released through RKO Radio Pictures. The mood piece surprised everyone, including the studio, by winning four Academy Awards and moving John Ford into the top echelon of Hollywood directors and Victor McLaglen into the role of one of the film industry's most trusted character actors.
Strictly observing the unities of time and space, the film traces Gypo Nolan from betrayal to death in just one 12-hour period. Whether Ford was aware he was making a film noir or not, he preceded the 1940s spate of "dark" films by having The Informer take place entirely at night.
The film opens with Gypo encountering a poster stating that there is a reward out for information leading to the capture of Frankie McPhillip, his rebel friend. Tearing the sign down and tossing it away, Gypo goes on his way only to discover, in one of Ford's most brilliant visual moments, that the poster takes on a life of its own and follows him down the street, eventually blowing onto his leg and clinging to it. The visual imagery continues as the viewer is introduced to Gypo's girlfriend Katie as a lovely madonna who suddenly changes into a bleach-blonde street-walker by merely removing her scarf.
Reasoning that he and Katie would be able to get a boat to the United States with the money offered to turn Frankie in, Gypo informs on the fugitive to the police. As Frankie visits clandestinely with his mother and sister, he is ambushed and killed. Gypo gets his reward, but is soon under suspicion by rebel leader Dan Gallagher. Celebrating by getting drunk, Gypo is caught and, having spent all the blood money, confesses. He hides in Katie's apartment and when she innocently reveals his whereabouts, he is shot. The wounded Gypo staggers to a church where Frankie's mother is praying. She forgives him and he dies under the altar.
Much has been said about composer Max Steiner's contribution to The Informer . The music suitably underscores all the action from the atmospheric beginning to the religious ending. The flawless cast, composed mainly of Irish-born actors, make the film and the plot believable, and the lighting, costuming, art direction and cinematography all contribute to the stifling and tense atmosphere. Although over 60 years old, this melodrama still holds up well in a period when another Irish rebellion has been raging in the 1990s.