For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, I want to take a look at John Ford’s Oscar-winning 1935 film, The Informer.
The Informer takes place in Dublin in 1921, during the Irish War of Independence and shortly before the creation of the Irish Free State. Friendly but stupid and irresponsible Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen) has been kicked out of the Irish Republican Army and is pretty much a pariah among his own people. His prostitute girlfriend, meanwhile, only wants to raise enough money to book passage for America and start a new life.
Gypo sees an opportunity when he runs into his former IRA colleague Frankie (Wallace Ford), who is one of the few people to treat Gypo kindly. Frankie is also fugitive who has a £20 bounty on his head. Gypo impulsively turns informer and lets the British know where Frankie is hiding.
When Frankie is killed, the guilt-ridden Gypo uses the reward money to buy a bottle of whiskey and then spends the rest of the day drunk and trying to convince the IRA the Frankie was betrayed by a nonexistent man named Mulligan.
When it was initially released in 1935, The Informer did well with both audiences and critics. It was nominated for Best Picture and won Oscars for John Ford, Victor McLaglen, and screenwriter Dudley Nichols. However, when viewed today, it’s easy to see the flaws in The Informer. The film feels stagey, heavy-handed, and rather melodramatic.
And yet, with all that in mind, I still like The Informer.
Some of that, of course, is because it’s a film about Ireland and, specifically, it’s a film about how the Irish Catholics were oppressed by British occupiers. This is a topic that I find to be endlessly fascinating and, speaking a someone who still has family living in Ardglass, County Down, I have to admit that I have a weakness for films (like this one) which tend to take the Irish side of things.
On a technical level, John Ford’s direction holds up pretty well. There’s a few scenes where the story’s theatricality gets the better of him but, for the most part, Ford does a good job of capturing Gypo’s dreary existence and maintaining a level of suspense, despite the fact that Gypo’s fate is obvious to the audience long before it’s obvious to anyone in the film. In Ford’s hands, the fog-filled and shadowy streets of Dublin serve as a representation of Gypo’s increasingly desperate and paranoid mindset. Ford’s Dublin is a world where danger can come out of nowhere and where there’s no place for a big and stupid target like Gypo to hide.
The film is dominated by Victor McLaglen’s theatrical performance. Again, there a few moments where McLaglen’s performance is a bit too broad but, for the most part, his boisterous approach works will for his well-meaning but not too smart character. One can see not only why the film’s characters are weary of Gypo but also why they have a difficult time rejecting him all together.
The Informer may not be perfect but it’s still worth tracking down and seeing.
Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia
- Executive Action
- Winter Kills
- Interview With The Assassin
- The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
- Beyond The Doors
- Three Days of the Condor
- They Saved Hitler’s Brain
- The Intruder
- Police, Adjective
- Burn After Reading
- Quiz Show
- Flying Blind
- God Told Me To
- Wag the Dog
- Scream and Scream Again
- Capricorn One
- Seven Days In May
- Broken City
- Pickup on South Street