No, it isn’t a 2010 film if you’re wondering. I mean the first masterpiece I’ve seen in 2010. Normally it takes a little longer before I watch a film that I admire so greatly, but this year it came early thanks to TCM.
The film is John Ford’s 1935 Oscar success The Informer and it’s one of the most emotionally invested films of the 30s.
Recently dismissed from an IRA squad, a poor and jobless Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen) is looking for anyway to scrounge money together to have he and his sweetheart Katie (Margot Grahame) living a decent life again. Here’s where he comes across a reward sign for 20 pounds to turn in a fugitive. This fugitive happens to be an old friend of Gypo and he too is apart of the IRA. However, the scale tips in favor of the British Empire when Gypo wondering down a street, happens upon his love prostituting herself on the street trying to earn a living. This sends Gypo into a fit of confusion, betrayal, self-loath and above all want. He informs on his friend, his friend gets caught by the police, but due to a fight put up his friend winds up dead.
With blood on his hands and a mind spun with an array of emotions, Gypo begins his emotional decline thanks to his new found cash and reborn affair with alcohol. It makes for a grueling watch and a guilty one as well because you’ve no one to root for. Deep down, you need to give the protagonist sympathy for the circumstances that befell him, but in turn the family of the newly deceased man is crumbling apart just as unsteadily as Gypo. Here, Ford concocts one of the finest mortality plays ever displayed on film with the adage of being historically intriguing.
In addition, the story is even a bit edgy considering the code. Showcasing the British Empire as a cluster of greed and pretension, as well as having a lengthy sequence take place in one of the scariest brothels conveyed through media. Though, I suppose when showing your calf is considered sexy, 70 years later the parties will find themselves dated. This causes for collision of surreal beats that only increases the haunting aura conjured.
It is also of note that 1935 was the first year that talkies seemed to step up from its typical melodrama or rambunctious comedies with films like this, Mutiny on the Bounty and Les Miserables. I only make this point because in cohesion with these features (and a few others from the year like David Copperfield), ‘modern’ cinema of the time was faced with its first dismal phase. Instead of simple characterization discussed through plot, you first began to deeply interpret the sorrow within these men and women through blunt storytelling like this. Through the contrivance of Gypo as this perilously exposed figure, the contributors to the film — from Victor McLaglen and his eternally torn disposition, Dudley Nichols’ comprehension of man that drips along to its conclusion and of course, John Ford’s picture perfect piquancy responsible for this visual vicissitude in cinema — tacitly explain what the mid 30s were to them as individuals, even though the film takes place in the 20s.
Having watched this in 2010 — 75 years after its cinematic inception — I can ardently declare that The Informer has stood the test of time. The best part? It’s legs are a far cry from weakening.