Monday, March 29, 2010

A LONG DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL...




From Internet Movie Poster Awards


From Internet Movie Poster Awards


John Ford's The Informer, largely forgotten in our time, is a very simple film. An Irish low-life rats out his friend to the police in order to collect the reward and move to America. What follows, however, is one of the most complex portrayals of guilt. Victor McLaglen won the Oscar for Best Actor, beating out such esteemed actors as Clark Gable and Charles Laughton. Watching his performance, it's easy to see why. The character's guilt and self-hatred is so palpable, so emotionally wrenching, that it's sometimes difficult to watch. But that difficultly serves to make an even stronger impression on the viewer. We can't forget the plight of Gypo, our protagonist, even if we wish we could.
(Battleship pretension)


John Ford
From filmreference com


The Informer was a box-office dud for John Ford, but it brought him his first Best Director Oscar and remains one of the most studied films of its era. The pathos created by the convincing performance of Victor McLaglen is made all the more intense by Ford's sensitive direction and Max Steiner's emotional score. Filmed in black-and-white and taking place mostly at night, The Informer creates an effective atmosphere of desperation, as the sadness of the story takes hold on the audience, especially since the Irish struggle for independence remains a powerful current-day theme.
(Richard Gilliam, All Movie Guide)


Gypo (Victor McLaglen) and Frankie (Wallace Ford)
From FIPRESCI


The Informer, Liam O'Flaherty's novel of the the Irish "troubles" of the early 1920s, was first filmed in England in 1929, with Cyril McLaglen in the lead. When director John Ford remade The Informer in 1935, the role of the tragic Irish roisterer Gypo Nolan went to Cyril's brother Victor McLaglen. The scene is Dublin, during the Sinn Fein rebellion. Gypo has tried to join the IRA, but has been bounced because he lacked full commitment to the cause. Gypo's best friend is Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford) a fugitive from the British "Black and Tans" with a price on his head. Hoping to start a new life with his streetwalker girlfriend Katie Madden (Margot Grahame), Gypo informs on Frankie, collecting the twenty-pound reward. Frankie is cornered and killed by the British troops; Gypo briefly suffers the pangs of conscience, but is too simple-minded to grasp the full impact of his betrayal. Suspecting that Gypo has turned in Frankie, IRA commander Gallegher (Preston Foster) orders his men to keep tabs on the big lout. As Gypo stupidly squanders his money on food, drink and entertainment, Gallegher's lieutenants keep tab of every penny spent. Finally dragged before the rebel court, Gypo tries to bluff his way out of trouble, fingering another man (Donald Meek) as the informer, but this subterfuge quickly falls apart. Sobbingly, Gypo confesses his treachery. Before his execution can be carried out, he escapes, but his hiding place is given away inadvertently by Katie. Regretfully, because they realize Gypo is too childish to be fully responsible for his actions, the IRA members shoot the man down. With his last ounce of strength, Gypo drags himself into the church where Frankie's mother (Una O'Connor) prays for his son's soul. "I was informed on your son, Mrs. McPhillip," Gypo weeps, "Forgive me." "Ah, Gypo, I forgive you," the grieving mother replies. "You didn't know what you were doing." Exultantly, Gypo looks heavenward, and, just before succumbing to his wounds, bellows "Frankie! Frankie! Your mother forgives me!" The Informer earned Victor McLaglen an Oscar, as well as several other nominations; the film did poorly at the box office, but John Ford had anticipated this reaction, reportedly waiving his considerable salary just to make certain that picture--a labor of love for the director, who was himself a native of Ireland--would be completed. The film was remade in 1968, relocated to the black ghetto of Los Angeles and retitled Uptight!.
(Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide)
The Informer is one of those films that ‘no one wanted to make’. Nominated in several other categories and touted world wide including taking the National Board of Review Best film of the year award, New York Film Critics Circle Award and receiving a nom at the Venice film Festival for that year. Not bad for a film 'no one wanted to make’ during the hey-day of the escapist gloss that was being pumped out of Hollywood during the depression. Bold and maudlin, this ‘realistic’ approach to a simplistic story of betrayal lends itself more towards the expressionistic filmmaking of Fritz Lang than it does from one of Cinema’s most celebrated poets, but that is what makes Ford so endearing. He is a story teller first, therefore it is the script that is served, proving that his underlying skills as a storyteller, visual designer, and dramatic guide did not require the high-priced Hollywood trappings that were the films competition for that year. The imagery is dark, brooding and compelling. The action, particularly in the shoot out between Frankie and the Black and Tans is amazingly over-wrought with emotion. There is a true sense of foreboding and urgency that many of the more pedestrian films did not dare to attempt.
Morally complex, that at times over-the top acting of its’ peripheral characters pushes this classic towards the edge of discomfort as the style of performance has changed since this film was made. However one must view the Informer within the context of it’s time and place which is nestled in between the silent era and Hollywood’s Golden age. Hollywood was finding itself as the creator of dreams and fantasies, without the need for social commentary to validate itself. Here, the filmmaker spurn their glossier counterparts to create what could be called one of the first Indie-films made under a studio banner.
The Informer is truly one of the first ‘indie films’ as we have come to know the modern terminology of what that means. Much like bankable film makers today, John Ford went against his usual niche’ and took tremendous risk to bring about his personal vision. Although backed by a studio, it was made at RKO- the Miramax of it’s day- and surrounded by well known talent at various levels including respected screen writer, Dudley Nichols, composer Max Steiner and production design by Van Nest Polglase.
(wildsound-filmmaking-feedback-events.com)
Much has been said about composer Max Steiner's contribution to The Informer . The music suitably underscores all the action from the atmospheric beginning to the religious ending. The flawless cast, composed mainly of Irish-born actors, make the film and the plot believable, and the lighting, costuming, art direction and cinematography all contribute to the stifling and tense atmosphere. Although over 60 years old, this melodrama still holds up well in a period when another Irish rebellion has been raging in the 1990s.
(The Informer - Film (Movie) Plot and Review - Publications at filmreference.com)
The performance of Victor McLaglen preserves that pitiful, doomed, half-witted flavour. Although the script dismisses the economic tensions--Gypo's recrimination to the IRA (that they marooned him) seems to be the only glimpse, Ford manages to present the social clash between the well-off Irish intelligentsia and the deprived workers and prostitutes. This tension is, nonetheless, highly stylised and romanticised, particularly in the final scene.
(Hugo Santander 2007)
Prior to his acting career, Victor McLaglen was a boxer and wrestler. This prepared him well for his role in The Informer as a clumsy drunk who keeps hitting people and throwing things around. Although his character in the film isn’t extremely likeable, McLaglen recieved an Academy Award for his performance. His range of emotions go from docile and a little paranoid, to slap-happy to angry and finally, a tearful remorse. John Ford captures the look of film noir, something more common in later 1940s and 50s crime dramas. There are no words spoken in the first five minutes of the film, creating a somber yet calming mood. Most of the story, (if not the entire thing) takes place during the night hours, with each exterior scene being lit partly by street lights. This use of light provides a low-key, high contrast effect that greatly contributes to the movie’s suspenseful content. Ford was a great influence on Orson Welles, which made sense after seeing The Informer. This film uses a similar technique of overlapping semi-transparent images to illustrate the thoughts of a character, something used by Welles in his montage sequences in Citizen Kane. Welles blends in these newspaper headlines, scrolling giant bold text across the screen. This technique is still going strong. The Informer is well organized and doesn’t lag. The subject matter was almost too simple, but the dramatic performances make up for it, especially in the end.
(conwayd.wordpress.com)


Gypo crosses a street to attend Frankie's wake
From FIPRESCI


From FIPRESCI
John Ford’s The Informer might best be thought of as a silent film. Or better yet, as a film that relies on its images and sounds, rather than its dialogue, to provide story elements, atmosphere, or character development. The dialogue is fine, but the brilliance of the film lies elsewhere. Ford and his cinematographer Joe August are able to ground the film’s characters (especially its central character, Gypo Nolan) and narrative solidly in the images.
For example, in the opening sequence, Ford sets the mood, the narrative, and the characterization with a series of nearly dialogue-free scenes in the streets of Dublin. The film opens on the shadowy image of Gypo, backlit and walking toward the camera through the foggy Irish night. At this point, his surroundings are impossible to determine. He seems almost not a part of the world, a ghost of a man. A series of these shots continues throughout the opening credit sequence, and already we have a sense that Gypo, the informer, is a man without a home.
A title card just after the credits makes reference to the story of the betrayer Judas. Then the film moves from shadow to reality, as Gypo’s shadow gets smaller and smaller on a nearby wall as he finally enters the frame from the left. His lessening image only contrasts with the man himself, who towers over passing pedestrians. Already the camera hints toward Gypo’s contradictory persona—strong or weak, lies or truths.
Ford’s camera follows Gypo down a Dublin street, where he encounters a wanted poster featuring a man called Frankie McPhillip. Gypo, shrouded in fog, stares long and hard at the poster. As Ford superimposes a happy memory of Frankie and Gypo over the mug shot, we not only get the distinct sense that Gypo knows the pictured criminal, but that he is struggling, like Judas, with whether or not to betray a friend. As he tears down the poster in anger, we perhaps can see this isn’t the first time Gypo has pondered this course.
The film then moves to three consecutive sequences, each of which is punctuated with that same wanted poster blowing into the frame. In the first, Gypo continues down the street, stopping only to listen to a young man singing an Irish ballad on the corner. As the man sings about the beauty of the Irish night and sea, Gypo stands removed from his countrymen, alone in the gloomy night. The camera’s focus turns to the poster, which, as if following Gypo, blows right on to his leg, sticking there and causing him some effort to remove it. But Gypo is no friend of the British either, quickly scurrying into the fog as a squad of “tans” rounds the corner. This all sets up the tragedy of Gypo Nolan beautifully, without words, save the song—a man without a home, lost in a moral fog, and even when surrounded by people, stands apart from all.
(Gladsome Morning)

From FIPRESCI
Finally, we see one final set of feet, those of Frankie McPhillip himself. As he walks down the city street, the poster blows up to him. Frankie picks it up, sees how much reward is being offered, and then quickly runs away to hide from another squad of “tans.” He is in the city, and the stage is set. The conflict is clear, though the night is anything but. Ford accomplishes this set up in under ten minutes with only a minimum of dialogue. This aids the inherent suspense in the situation because it allows the viewer the freedom to make the connections of the narrative himself. And it makes clear the foggy moral morass that will imbue the film throughout.
(Gladsome Morning)

Producer: Cliff Reid; screenplay: Dudley Nichols, from the novel by Liam O'Flaherty; photography: Joseph H. August; editor: George Hively; sound: Hugh McDowell Jr.; art directors: Van Nest Polglase and Charles Kirk; music: Max Steiner; costume designer: Walter Plunkett.
(The Informer - Film (Movie) Plot and Review - Publications at filmreference.com)

Cast:
Victor McLaglen - Gypo Nolan
Heather Angel - Mary McPhillip
Preston Foster - Dan Gallagher
Margot Grahame - Katie Madden
Wallace Ford - Frankie McPhillip
Una O'Connor - Mrs. McPhillip
J. M. Kerrigan - Terry
Joe Sawyer - Bartly Mulholland (as Joseph Sauers)
Neil Fitzgerald - Tommy Connor
Donald Meek - Peter Mulligan
D'Arcy Corrigan - The Blind Man
Leo McCabe - Donahue
Steve Pendleton - Dennis Daly (as Gaylord Pendleton)
Francis Ford - "Judge" Flynn
May Boley - Madame Betty
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)


Una O'Connor
Photograph by mildredR
From whosdatedwho.com


Victor McLaglen
Photograph by crown022002
From whosdatedwho.com



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