Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Informer (1935)

The Story Of A Man Named Gypo

- John Ford is one of the most influential and best remembered American filmmakers in the history of film, his name usually associated with the western film genre (Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956)). However, John Ford's arguably best film is not a western at all but a seedy drama set in the Irish fight for independence in the early 1920s: 1935's The Informer.

Times are tough on many in Ireland and the burnt out Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen) is caught in a web of poverty and desperation - and the walls are closing in. Gypo is big but he is not the brightest bulb on the tree, has a warm heart but a short fuse, and never seems to really think things all the way through but he is not a criminal or a self-centered pig. Walking the streets starving with nowhere to live, the hulking Gypo Nolan finds the prime lady in his life, Katie Madden (Margot Grahame), on the streets soliciting herself because of her own desperate situation and starts to dream about taking her to the United States if he only had the 20 Pounds to pay for it. As luck would have it, his friend Frankie (Wallace Ford) is back in town with a 20 Pound price over his head and Gypo is desperate enough to inform the police of Frankie's whereabouts. Gypo, with the new 20 Pounds of blood money earned, finds this foggy night particularly foggier as guilt swells all over him and the IRA invests all their resources to find Frankie's informer.

Victor McLaglen portrays the fallen Gypo Nolan and definitely deserved the Best Actor Oscar he was awarded for this film. His brutish, stupid, and tender turns give the character dimension and McLaglen is only second to Dudley Moore's character Arthur Bach from the 1981 film Arthur as the most entertaining cinematic drunk. Margot Grahame's performance as Katie Madden is also excellent but she and McLaglen are the only members of the cast who truly impress. Preston Foster is especially miscast as an IRA head, mainly because he is most obviously not Irish, and J. M. Kerrigan borders on irritating throughout his role in the film. This disappointing supporting cast is the film's only poor point and one that does not leave much of a mark on the film in the first place, especially when this disappointing supporting cast is sharing the screen with the commanding McLaglen.

Often overshadowed by some of Ford's better known westerns like The Searchers or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), The Informer is easily one of John Ford's best films - if not his very best. Beginning what would be a long career of Oscar nominations and wins for John Ford, The Informer won four Oscars including one for him for best director in 1936. Ford and company's use of shadows and light in the film is particularly engaging and vital to telling the story. Gypo's walk through the streets is narrated by the gloomy state of the town and the glaring accusations of the street lamps, each shadow constantly reminding him of his dark deed. Ford's command of this technique was amazing to watch; if The Informer was made 10 years later (thus making the genre requirements) it would probably be considered one of the best films noir of all time but that does not hinder it from being remembered as an excellent classic film.

CBC Rating: 10/10

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