Monday, January 21, 2008

You Dirty Rat: The Informer

The Boy continues to amaze me. We watched John Ford's The Informer the other night and The Boy pronounced it "great". Although second tier John Ford, melodramatic and incredibly dated, this 1935 film is still remarkably effective. I don't think I could've recognized (or experienced) that at 12, though.

Big Irish thug Gypo informs on his pal for 20 pounds, and this results in his pal's death in a hail of gunfire. Gypo's not really a bad sort, despite being a criminal and rebel1, and he really doesn't have the constitution for it.

The movie is essentially his self-destructive binge. And you could have quite a binge on 20 pounds back in 1922. (It took 10 pounds to sail to America, and the tragedy is that he doesn't just set sail with his girlfriend.)

As is probably clear from previous reviews (say, of Atonement), I'm not much on films about losers. Especially unrepentant cowards. Yet somehow this movie works quite well. You pity poor Gypo from the start. No opportunity, no hope, and no brains, tempted by the English authority, and completely unable to hide his crime or his guilt.

He tries, of course. He blames an innocent man but he's not smart enough to pull it off, or even remember that he's framed the guy until he remembers in a rebel court.

This film uses a lot of silent movie techniques, and the acting is rather broad, but it still works, and I think the broadness and simplicity is a big part of the reason. Of course, one should never be surprised by a good John Ford movie.

1. I use the term "rebel" because they're portrayed as such, and it's not clear to me from history that these are the Irish terrorists that became the IRA.


  1. Yes this was the IRA. Ford romanticized the IRA and often told tall tales of how he went over to Ireland to run guns. Victor Andrew de Bier Everleigh McLaglen is the only actor to fight for the heavyweight championship and win an Oscar. He fought Jack Johnson of Great White Hope fame. The rumor was that Ford kept him drunk and screamed at him throughout the shoot to keep him confused and on edge. But Ford always abused those close to him except for Fonda and the Duke because they got too big for him to screw around.

    Let the kid see She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and Fort Apache to see Ford, Wayne and McLaglen at the top of their game.

  2. Also Abe Lincoln in Illinois and Drums Along the Mohawk are better than any history book.

  3. But they weren't targeting civilians at this time, or so I've heard. Americans have indulged Irish terrorism way too much in the past 30 years, but I don't know what was going on at this time. I know they had the Black & Tans, but I think this post-dates them.

    All these old directors strike me as being tough, Ford and Hawkes--and hell, Hughes, Curtiz...even James Whale was one bad-ass pouf. Hawks used to diss Bogie's relationship with Lauren Bacall--but primarily because she wasn't interested in Hawks...

  4. Peter Bogdonvich (sic) wrote a book where he interviewed a bunch of old school directors including Hawks, William Wellman, Alfred Hitchcock and Willie Wyler. You should get it on Amazon. Great stories if you are interest in movies. It's called:

    Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors

    Well worth the dough.

  5. The IRA did target certain civilians, basicly the overseer's and factorums of the ruling English elite. Also informers were fair game, but people will inform to get a crust of bread to survive. Eamon DeValera, the famous political leader was thought by some to have informed on rivals and betrayed them. See the film Michael Collins for a taste of that. Revolution is a dirty business. A good companion piece to the Informer is The Quiet Man which is my all time favorite movie. The Boy will enjoy the comedy even if it is a some what sappy love story. The IRA makes an appearance as well.

  6. Ha! I recommended Who The Devil Made It? to you in this thread.

  7. As far as The Quiet Man, yeah, I've been watching like a hawk for that one.


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