7 May 2017



This is a magnificent silent movie based on the novel by Irish writer Liam O'Flaherty. The novel was famously made into no fewer than three separate film versions. The most well-known of these is apparently the 1935 John Ford version but, even though I haven't yet seen this version, I honestly can't imagine that I'd like it better than the 1929 film, one of the most powerful and emotive silent movies I've ever seen.

Francis McPhillip is a member of an unnamed organisation known simply in the film as 'the Party.' The setting is Ireland/Dublin after the 1922 War of Independence. The 'Party' is constantly under surveillance by the police in these turbulent and ever-changing times.

During a shoot-out, Francis accidentally kills the Chief of Police, for which crime the Party have no choice but to turn their backs on him while urging him to flee to America. They'll give him a few quid to defray the costs of emigration but they can do no more for him than that.

Frightened and alone, Francis goes to say his goodbyes, firstly to his elderly mother, a shopkeeper, and then to his former sweetheart, Katie Fox. Katie is played by the stunning Hungarian actress Lya De Putti, whose biggest role was alongside the German actor Emil Jannings in the silent film VARIETÉ (1925).

She's a terrific actress with a beautifully mobile and expressive face. In VARIETÉ , she plays Emil Janning's mistress who lures him away from his missus without even trying. Of course, in the end, walking away from his wife and child proves to be the worst thing that Emil Jannings' character ever does but he's a grown man, isn't he? He made his own bed without any help from anyone else. Now let him lie in it...

Anyway, in THE INFORMER, Ms. De Putti is, if anything, even more startlingly beautiful than in VARIETÉ. No wonder poor Francis is still befuddled with love for her. Katie has a new lover now, however, the tall handsome docker known as Gypo Nolan, played by talented Swedish actor Lars Hanson. Such a cosmopolitan cast was par for the course during that era of film-making and adds an international flavour to the movies produced in those days.

When Gypo finds out that Katie has been entertaining Francis in her tiny flat, in a fit of jealous rage he goes to the cops and informs on Francis, a wanted man. The consequences for Francis are catastrophic. Gypo, crippled with guilt, spends the rest of the film trying to atone for his actions, a crime passionel committed in the heat of the moment and which he'd gladly have taken back if he could.

It's a tragic story, told with so many astonishing but perfectly organic twists and turns that I was gripped the whole way through this extraordinary film. When I told my kids that we'd be watching a silent film about post-War Of Independence Ireland over the Saturday night takeaway, the moans and groans out of them could be heard as far away as Cork. But from the minute the music started up, all three of us were completely captivated by the tragedy unfolding on the screen in front of us.

The movie was made entirely in a studio on sets that are totally realistic-looking. Its dark and claustrophobic appearance, which will hit you from the minute the film starts rolling, was the work of German cinematographer Werner Brandes. He'd previously worked with Fritz Lang, the King of German Expressionist Cinema whose METROPOLIS is still to this day one of the best films ever made in any era, bar none.

I'm so glad that I was privileged enough to be able to see THE INFORMER. This exceptional film has been newly restored by the British Film Institute Archive, and it has a fabulous new score too from acclaimed violist and composer Garth Knox. 

In this sparkling new-and-improved format, it premiered at the 2016 BFI London Film Festival to a rapturous reception. Now it's out on special release from the BFI in a Dual Format Edition (DVD and Blu-Ray) and it contains the silent version alongside the rare sound version which was produced at the same time.

There are a load of terrific special features included with your purchase, my favourite of which was the selection of TOPICAL BUDGET newsreels documenting Irish independence. It might sound like a rather dry and dusty academic subject but, trust me, it comes to life when you watch these old newsreels.

They're so old, so ancient that it's like reaching back into the vaults of history and selecting a topic to come alive right in front of you. Yes, all right, I admit it. I'm excited by history. It turns me on something fierce, haha. You want to get me into bed? Lure me there with talk of Hitler and the Thousand-Year-Reich. And if you mention 1916 and the Easter Rising, it'll get you a sweet bonus activity and your hand stamped in case you want to get back in, heh-heh-heh...!

Enjoy the film, anyway. I never expected to like a silent movie as much as I liked VARIETÉ but THE INFORMER is assuredly that movie. The connection between the two films is, of course, the actress Lya De Putti who, tragically, was dead of pneumonia within two years of the film's release. She was only thirty-four-years old, this gorgeous actress who'd worked with such cinematic luminaries as Conrad Veidt, Adolphe Menjou, F. W. Murnau and Fritz Lang.

It's a sad, sad story and it makes her the perfect choice of leading lady for the magnificent tragedy that is THE INFORMER. Rest in peace, dear Lya. Your expressive dark eyes and trembling mouth will not be forgotten by those of us who admire you still.

BFI releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop. Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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