In Dublin, Ireland, IRA (Irish Republican Army) soldier Gypo Nolan helps authorities apprehend fellow IRA fighter and friend, Francis McPhillips, who had gone into hiding following the killing of the Chief of Police. After collecting the reward money, a guilt-ridden Gypo wrestles with the consequences of his actions.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“I informed on your son! Can you forgive me?”
Everyone has seen or heard of John Ford’s 1935 classic The Informer, while this silent version of the well-regarded 1922 novel by famed Irish novelist Liam O’Flaherty has been completely forgotten. There was a good reason for that: Ford’s movie was readily available for years while the 1929 film was thought to have been lost.
Fortunately, BFI (The British Film Institute) managed to find a print, restored it, and released it on home video (you can buy the DVD/Blu-ray at Amazon). I was happy to finally get my hands on a copy of this obscure title. Although different in some areas from the beloved 1935 Oscar-winning classic, the little-seen silent film (made in England) remains true to the spirit of O’Flaherty’s story.
The biggest difference between the two movies is the way the main character is portrayed. In Ford’s film, Gypo is a well-intentioned but dimwitted brute who isn’t capable of grasping the ramifications of his betrayal. In this version, Gypo is shown as a dedicated IRA member who makes a calculated decision to betray his fellow IRA soldier because he mistakenly thinks the friend is planning to run away with his girlfriend.
Swedish actor Lars Hanson (star of Victor Sjöström’s The Scarlet Letter and The Wind) plays Gypo as an impulsive man whose momentary lapse in judgement cost him dearly. Hanson’s brooding, noirish (he reminded me of Hollywood’s postwar anti-heroes) interpretation compares favorably with Victor McLaglen’s unforgettable Oscar-winning performance in Ford’s movie. Both approaches are valid.
British character actor Carl Harbord (The Macomber Affair) is pretty great too as the man Gypo betrays. Daisy Campbell gives a heart-breaking performance as the betrayed man’s elderly mother. Lya De Putti (Phantom), who plays Gypo’s love interest, is good but too melodramatic by today’s standards. The film does offer a rare chance to see De Putti’s work, a popular silent star who is completely forgotten now.
The story is admittedly very simple: Guy snitches on friend, guy feels guilty about snitching on friend. From a technical standpoint, however, the movie is virtually flawless. The Informer was extremely well-directed by German filmmaker Arthur Robinson (Warning Shadows and 1935 version of The Student of Prague).
I wouldn’t say Robinson’s work is better than Ford’s, but I do think it is very effective in establishing an atmosphere of anxiety and despair. The sets are great too — you feel as if you are travelling through a maze of cramped buildings. The noir-style camerawork is fantastic. The restored print comes with a beautiful, appropriately Irish-forward music score by highly regarded Irish-Scottish violinist Garth Knox.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
All in all, this is an outstanding British silent production. The film slowly builds to a compelling climax. While not quite as good as the famous 1935 Hollywood movie, this version of The Informer can stand on its own — it’s a hidden treasure! Highly recommended! P.S. The DVD/Blu-ray also contains a semi-sound version (approx. 84 minutes) of the film. Tinted, 99 minutes, Not Rated.