Freewheelin' Pilgrim

The Ramblings and Misadventures of a Wayward Gentleman

The Informer (1935)

with 3 comments

Hiya folks!

Last Friday was a rare day for me. I had no assignments due, I was up to date with all my readings and feeling generally swell. So I decided to give myself a reward and watched four new DVDs I purchased- all classics, of course. I loved them so much, I thought I’d share them with you!


The Informer – 1935.

The first movie I watched was The Informer. To be honest, I don’t know why I bought it. I think I might have had a brief idolatry phase with Victor McLaglen…
Anyhow, the film is set in Dublin, during the ‘Troubles’ of the early 1920s. For the sake of those who don’t know about this period in Irish history, it involved the Irish Republican Army’s struggle against the British-backed ‘Irish Free State’ and the continued presence of British troops within Ireland.
 ‘Gypo’ (love the name) Nolan is a penniless ex-IRA member (he was court-martialled for refusing to shoot a man in cold blood) who dreams of taking himself and his girlfriend Katie to America. But, of course, they cannot afford the £20 fare. ‘Gypo’ then sees a wanted poster for a fugitive IRA member named Frankie McPhillip who is also one of ‘Gypo’s’ friends. Conveniently, the reward for Frankie is… £20. Even more conveniently, whilst lounging around at a bar, Frankie returns from (a presumably long-term) exile and chats to ‘Gypo’. ‘Gypo’ is haunted by the image of the £20 reward and goes to the H.Q. of the ‘Black and Tans’ (so named for their uniforms. They were thuggish British soldiers.) and informs on Frankie. What ensues for the next 90-odd minutes is a moral decay for ‘Gypo’ as he struggles with guilt, booze, women and the curse of money as the IRA try to discover who ‘the informer’ is…

‘The Informer’ is such a wonderful film. It’s so moody and expressionistic, like Fritz Lang’s ‘M’ only much more watchable. I kept being surprised that the director was John Ford. I honestly lapsed throughout the film and thought that a German ex-pat may have directed it. But it just proves that Ford was a durable, versatile director and not just the “Western guy” that most people think him today. The Informer is every bit a German expressionist film as it is a product of the Hollywood system.

On paper, story-wise, the film is pretty standard. The plot is typical to the gangster movies which were popular around this time. Change Chicago or Noo Yawk to Dublin; gangsters to IRA members; the cops to the Black and Tans. It’s not really anything to write home about. BUT there is so much going on beneath the surface. ‘Gypo’s’ descent into drunken boorishness and the psychological consequences on his informing on Frankie is just wonderful. It takes a sort of ‘stock’ story and turns it into a pre-cursor of the psychological thriller genre. 
There are a few good ‘Pre-Code’ moments in The Informer which I always love trying to spot. There’s a brilliant shootout, LOTS of drunkeness (hey, it’s IRELAND. And I can say that, coming from good Irish-Australian stock.) and even (SHOCK HORROR!) implications of the biggest taboo in Production-Code cinema: PROSTITUTION.
The best thing about this film though, is the acting. I hated Victor McLaglen for ‘stealing’ the Oscar away from Gabe in Mutiny on the Bounty ages before I saw this film (or, even before I even saw Victor McLaglen act…). But having now seen him in this film, I can honestly say that his performance in this film is better than almost any other performance given by an actor in 1930s cinema. I cannot sing his praises enough. ‘Gypo’ Nolan is just a fantastic character, and McLaglen is…I can’t even think of a word to describe just how brilliant his portrayal was. Just thinking about the final shot in the film brings me close to tears, it’s so utterly brilliant.
I read on IMDb that John Ford kept McLaglen on his toes and dishevelled to make ‘Gypo’ realistic, and it paid off big-time. Watching him, you get the feeling, the sensation, of seeing a man deteriorate, racing closer to the inevitable consequences of his action. ‘Gypo’ is one of the greatest flawed heroes or tragic villains in the history of cinema. I know that’s a HUGE call to make, but if you see this film (and I pray earnestly that you will!) I’m sure you’ll agree.


Victor McLaglen as 'Gypo' Nolan: Breathtakingly Brilliant.

The supporting cast were also great. I especially loved seeing Una O’Connor in a ‘straight’ role (you may remember her screeching her way through The Invisible Man or Bride of Frankenstein). She’s actually really quite moving in this film as Frankie’s ‘mudder’ and she even gets in a screech. But make no mistakes, it’s McLaglen’s film.

I give this film a deserved 10/10 and would not hesitate in recommending it to anyone. It’s a truly under-appreciated classic.


Written by Gypo Nolan

October 11, 2011 at 12:59 am

Posted in Movies

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Excellent!!! Now I really really really want to see this film! Nice comeback 🙂

    Carole Irene

    October 11, 2011 at 4:46 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: