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Informer, The (1929)


Main image of Informer, The (1929)
35mm, black and white, 83 mins
DirectorArthur Robison
Production CompanyBritish International Pictures
DialogueBenn Levy
From a novel byLiam O'Flaherty
PhotographyWerner Brandes

Cast: Lya De Putti (Katie Fox); Lars Hanson (Gypo Nolan); Warwick Ward (Dan Gallagher); Carl Harbord (Francis McPhillips); Dennis Wyndham (Murphy); Graighall Sherry (Mulholland)

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During the Irish rebellion of 1917, Gypo Nolan informs on his friend for shooting a policeman.

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The Informer is one of a number of British films made during the period of transition from silent to talking pictures. The most celebrated of these is Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929), but numerous other films included sound sequences to varying degrees of artistic success. Like Blackmail, The Informer was released in sound and silent versions, with significant differences between the two.

The first half of the sound version is shot as silent, with German director Arthur Robison fully demonstrating the level of technical sophistication that this style of filmmaking had reached by its twilight years. Without the constraints of cumbersome sound equipment, Robison's camera roams freely, with one particularly accomplished long take following Gypo as he pushes his way through a crowded street, halting with dreadful finality at the door of the police station where he intends to betray his best friend. Cinematographer Werner Brandes' lighting is imaginative and atmospheric throughout, and the film's numerous chases and shoot-outs are exhilarating and rapidly edited by Emile de Ruelle.

The use of a synchronised (non-dialogue) soundtrack is also creatively used in the first part of the film. The jaunty jazz record Katie plays to mask the sounds of McPhilip's escape incongruously persists throughout her confrontation with Gypo. It is eventually and dramatically silenced with Gypo's smashing of a glass, and replaced by the rising swell of the film's orchestral score that accompanies his subsequent exit, intensifying the emotional fallout of the quarrel. The film's pace briefly falters early in the second half, with two rather stilted dialogue sequences, but picks up again with Gypo's exciting escape into the path of an oncoming train and Katie's final betrayal.

While the European personnel and stars of The Informer demonstrate the international nature of much late 1920s British cinema, contemporary critics felt that the film consequently lacked the atmosphere and political preoccupations of Irish novelist Liam O'Flaherty's original story (qualities later successfully captured in John Ford's (US) 1935 version). It's true that there is little to locate the film geographically (except the occasional Irish accent and the availability on tap of Irish stout) and that the political is subsumed to the personal (the cinematic Gypo's betrayal is explicitly due to sexual jealousy, not political rivalry), but what the film lacks in local colour and political topicality, it makes up for in style, particularly in Robison's fluid direction and Brandes' use of expressionistic light and shadow.

Nathalie Morris

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Video Clips
Blackmail (1929)
British International Pictures (1926-33)
Silent Lovers