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The Informer
cast: Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster, Margot Grahame, and Una O'Connor

director: John Ford

90 minutes (PG) 1935
Universal DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
At the height of the troubles, Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen) is desperate to get out of Ireland and start a new life in America with the love of his life. Unable to find the money any other way, Gypo informs on a friend, and soon finds himself in a downward spiral of drink, indulgence and despair...

McLaglen picked up the best actor Oscar for his performance here and it's easy to see why. He's a fascinating figure, a huge, brutish man who does something despicable but does it for the right reasons. The dichotomy he finds himself in feeds his darkest, most destructive tendencies and there's a real tension to the scenes where Gypo stumbles drunkenly around the city, intent on proving his success by burning the very cash he betrayed his principles for on cheap drinks for strangers and physical violence. He's smart enough to understand what he's done but nowhere near smart enough to do anything about it and for that reason alone it's a fascinating and profoundly tragic performance.

Ford creates an almost gothic atmosphere, his version of Ireland filled with medieval cellars, fog and imminent doom. There's a nice parity between the moral grey area Gypo finds himself in and the grey, featureless landscape he wanders across and it not only drives home the problems of the character but also the threat inherent in McLaglen's beefy frame.

However, inevitably, the film has aged and aged badly. The melodrama of Gypo's dilemma is relentlessly played and there are elements that quickly grate, and grate badly. The 20-minute plus sequence where Gypo and a close friend travel from bar to bar, with Gypo continually being introduced as 'King Gypo' doesn't so much make the film's central plot as ram it endlessly down the viewer's throat and the eventual conclusion, whilst poignant, plays into every single one of the worst, romantic fantasies American cinema has about the Irish troubles.

The Informer isn't a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination but the fact it still works as well it does is testament to McLaglen's skill as an actor, and John Ford's as a director. A troubled, heavily stylised but still fascinating piece this is a must for fans of classic cinema.

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