Victor McLaglen gave the performance of his life as the brutish betrayer Gypo Nolan in this telling adaptation of Liam O'Flaherty's novel, directed by John Ford.
Made for a mere $243,000, THE INFORMER is one of John Ford's greatest films, technically correct in every detail. Joseph August's photography is superb, with its atmospheric shadows and light; the studio sets are brilliant representations of a fog-bound 1920s Dublin, with wet cobblestones, sweating walls, gloom, poverty, and hopelessness.
Through this mythic setting Ford moves his characters stoically to their grim fates. His selection of Victor McLaglen, who had starred in his other memorable talkie, THE LOST PATROL (1934), was a masterstroke. Barrel-chested, with a thunderous voice and oxlike shoulders, McLaglen was the perfect hulking, scar-faced Gypo Nolan, his battered face jutting pugnaciously into Ford's cameras (he had once been Heavyweight Champion of Great Britain). McLaglen would never again reach such heights, although he would appear in 150 films.
The first of three films Ford did for RKO, THE INFORMER became the studio's most prestigious production for years. Ford had directed many films before this, but they were unexceptional apart from the silent epic THE IRON HORSE (1924) and THE LOST PATROL (1934). He had approached RKO as early as 1930, asking to film the O'Flaherty novel. Studio bosses thought the tale too dark and depressing and its protagonist wholly without sympathy—a drunk, a liar, a man who would betray anyone or do anything to save his own skin. Ford kept pestering the studio, promising to stick to a small budget—a commitment he honored. Writer Dudley Nichols, one of Ford's favorite collaborators, wrote the script in six days, and Ford shot the entire film with lightning speed, completing it within another seventeen days.
Many stories surrounding the filming make the speed with which the film was completed especially impressive. After filming was completed, it was whispered that McLaglen, a great imbiber, was drunk during most of the filming and that Ford engineered this inebriated state as the only means of getting a raw and totally giving performance. Though most of these stories are gossip, it is known that before the climactic church scene where Gypo dies, Ford took McLaglen aside and they shared a few nips together before commencing the screens.
For Ford, this was the turning point of his majestic career. From here he would go on to make THE HURRICANE (1937); STAGECOACH (1939); THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940); HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941), and a host of other masterpieces that earned him the gigantic reputation he enjoyed during the thirties and forties. This was also a landmark film for composer Max Steiner, whose marvelous score perfectly fits every scene, from thundering patriotic cadences to lyrical and evocative motifs.
The O'Flaherty tale was originally filmed by British International as a silent in 1929; a miserable production by comparison to Ford's classic work. The 1935 version of the story was not an initial success, despite rave reviews from critics at the time, but one day after it was premiered it had the distinction of being shown on the great luxury liner Normandie (later sabotaged during World War II in the Brooklyn Navy Yards) on its maiden voyage. When the film was named to the "Ten Best Films" list compiled at the end of 1935, audiences flocked to see it, making it a box-office smash, and over the decades the film earned RKO millions.
THE INFORMER was remade in 1968, with an all-black cast. The film, directed by Jules Dassin under the title UP TIGHT, was an utter failure.
THE INFORMER gleaned top honors from the Academy, winning Oscars for McLaglen as Best Actor, Dudley Nichols for Best Adaptation, Max Steiner for Best Musical Score, and Ford for Best Director (he also won the New York Critics Best Director award).
(from Cinebooks Motion Picture Guide review)
CMM : Incredibly atmospheric, McLaglen is great. (3 out of 5)
I am so happy you have given this film the credit it deserves. I read the book and was not disappointed by the movie.
It is one of my favorites that is very rarely shown on TV.
No one could have played the character but McLauglin. I have always liked him.
You have really given this gem it's due.
The highest praise I can heap on THE INFORMER is that it has real atmosphere, often reminiscent of Fritz Lang's M, and certainly influential later on in the noirs. It's tight and taut all the way, one of the best of Ford's non-westerns. If it's forgotten today, those westerns are a lot of the reason; but, also, so many films imitated or suggested its visual style and inherent tension, that it seems to be less than it is.