Movies We Like
One of the most beautifully directed and most gorgeously shot films of the 1930s is this stirring account of an Irishman in Dublin in 1922 who betrays his friend and country by turning informer for the British. Gypo Nolan is a big dumb giant of a man with few options in life. Acting as an agent for the Irish Rebellion he refuses to execute one of the members of the British Occupation and is cut off from the network that sustains the Rebels during hopeless economic times. With a girlfriend named Mary whom he finds reduced to walking the street hoping to keep from starving to death, he takes the only opportunity he is offered—that of informing on his friend Frankie who is wanted by the British. Though Gypo originally plans to use the money he makes from double crossing his friend to take Mary to America he instead throws it around on booze and buying fish and chips for a huge crowd of his fellow Irishmen who cheer him on as a hero. When he is exposed as the one who double crossed Frankie he fingers an innocent man as the true culprit before getting shot by members of the Rebellion for his betrayal.
One of the unusual things about The Informer is the way in which Ford turns the tragic story of Gypo Nolan informing on his friend into an allegory for the betrayal of Christ by Judas, but also making Gypo a kind of Christ figure at the same time. The symbolism is anything but subtle. First the film starts with a Biblical passage about Judas betraying Christ, while the scene of Gypo buying fish and chips for a crowd of revelers is clearly inspired by the story of Jesus and the fishes and loaves. By the time Gypo stumbles into the town church bleeding from a gunshot wound, he raises his arms aloft in a Christ pose in front of a statue of Christ on the cross (in case we weren’t getting the picture—we have multiple examples of a very heavy handed kind of symbolism at work). And yet the film works because of the arresting performances, exquisite cinematography, and, while the symbolism is overbearing at times, Ford’s conflation of Judas and Christ into one character, albeit uneven, is undeniably affecting.
Gypo (played by Victor McLaglen who won an Oscar for his portrayal) is a man too thick to understand the consequences of his actions or even how to articulate the anguish he is experiencing. He is completely alone and without a friend in the world. As much as his betrayal of his friend haunts the story it’s the Rebellion that deserted him first for an act of mercy by him they didn’t appreciate. It’s harder to feel sympathy for Gypo once he starts accusing an innocent man of the crime he committed and the action the leaders of the Rebellion take against him is understandable, but this complicated stew of poverty, betrayal, and desperation is the stuff that wars are made of. Gypo Nolan is as much a tragic symbol as a flesh-and-blood man.
The Informer won four Oscars: Best Actor (Victor McLaglen), Best Director, Best Score, and Best Screenplay (Dudley Nichols). The film was also nominated for two additional Oscars for Best Picture and Best Editing.