Film history in brief : 1935’s “The Informer,” directed by John Ford

It’s 1920 and Ireland is at war with the British during the War of Independence. Gypo (Victor McLaglen) snitches on a sinn fein militant, eventually getting fingered, and attacked. He stumbles into a church and dies.

Directed by John Ford, “The Informer” was made in spite of the producers (RKO Pictures) having major doubts about its commercial prospects. And yet, the film was hailed, at the time of its release, as one of the most important contributions to the film arts since the talkies began (Lewis Jacob). But it was a box-office failure at first. After its multiple wins at the Academy Awards, however, the film made millions.

Screenwriter Dudley Nichols wrote this about “The Informer”: “Symbolism is good only when the public hasn’t been made aware of it. That’s what we did for Gypo. He became a traitor out of stupidity and ignorance, but the reveal comes very slowly. We used a blind man as a representation of this. After Gypo receives his reward for his betrayal, 20 pounds, from the British, he meets a blind man and waves his hand in front of his eyes to make sure his disability is real. It was as if he was facing his own conscience. He waves in front of his own face and then runs off, the sound of the blind man’s walking stick hitting the sidewalk following after him. That was symbolic, although no one interpreted it in this way.” “The slow and deliberate pace of the acting and the editing gave the film its ominous feeling of mounting calamity. The slow, dramatic, unraveling of the tragic and violent events is underscored by the shadows and the fog of Dublin, the whole movie soaked up in nighttime.”

Film was adapted from the namesake novel by Liam O’Flaherty (Harcourt, Brace, 1925) and is a remake of the 1929 original.

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