In John Ford’s The Informer, we are taken to a foggy night in Dublin, 1922. Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen) is a starving now that he’s been cast out of the organized rebels. When he sees a reward poster for his old pal, Frankie (Wallace Ford), the twenty pound reward is tempting. So tempting that he tears it from the wall, but the windy night has the poster follow him. His girlfriend, Katie (Margot Grahame), is so desperate for money she has turned to prostitution. When she sees a poster for a voyage to America, she says, “Twenty pounds and the world is ours.” This seems to be the final straw for Gypo, he decides to turn Frankie in.
After we see Frankie gunned down in an intense gunfight in front of his mother and sister, Gypo is a free, and rich man with a growing guilty conscience. Anyone with twenty pounds in his pockets is considered loaded here. He at first tries to extinguish the guilt with a bottle of whiskey, but that is only throwing gas on the fire. When people start getting a whiff of all the money Gypo has on him, they take him out on the town, on his dime. As Gypo gets more drunk, the worse he feels about squealing on Frankie and the less careful he is with his money, or who he gives it to. By the end of the night, people will making the connection between Frankie’s death and Gypo’s new fortune.
Victor McLaglen won the Oscar for best actor for portraying Gypo through his downward spiral. He is simply a large, desperate brute with a conscious that works best in the aftermath of a terrible moral decision, but watching that conscious grow and torment him from the inside out is truly intriguing. By the climatic trial scene, I felt terrible for how stinking drunk and tired Gypo looked. The story goes that Ford made McLaglen perform that scene through a fierce hangover he planned on McLaglen getting after the grueling film schedule.
Sometimes the simplest films have the greatest affect. Here, the plot is a simple story of guilt set in a mysteriously foggy Dublin, but it was done so well. This fog is so thick that lights seem to just get lost in it and only shadows can slice through. The wind, with it’s ability to continually bring the crumpled wanted poster back to Gypo, is wonderfully eerie that only adds to the growing tension within Gypo. And reading how John Ford pushed McLaglen throughout filming and into that hungover performance is intriguing and makes the end even more painful to watch. It took me a long while to think about it, but I personally would rank The Informer as the best picture of 1935. Mutiny is a very close second.
“I’m in with the fog and out with the fog and no one will be the wiser.”