The Informer
Kino // Unrated // $29.95 // April 23, 2019
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted June 10, 2019
Highly Recommended
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Graphical Version
As noted in Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's excellent documentary series Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood (1995), during the silent era Great Britain lagged far behind the European continent when it came to innovative cinema. There were exceptions, of course, like Hitchcock's silent films, and there was The Informer (1929), the first film version of Liam O'Flaherty's novel.

John Ford's very different 1935 Hollywood feature starring Victor McLaglen is far better known, and for years the only version of the 1929 film available was a part-talkie version. That cut was nearly 20 minutes shorter than the silent film, and while most of it consisted of footage from the earlier version, the talking sequences and dubbed silent scenes are faintly ludicrous for reasons explained below.

Kino's new Blu-ray utilizes a BFI restoration of both versions, defaulting to the silent film but also offering the part-talkie version as an extra feature. About 90% of the film looks splendid, ranking among the best-looking silent films on Blu-ray. The movie itself holds up remarkably well, with its superb art direction, camerawork, and especially its exceptional leading performances.

Despite a truce arranged by Irish Republican Army leader Dan Gallagher (Warwick Ward) and the local police, violence erupts and IRA soldier Frances McPhilip (Carl Harbord) accidently kills a police chief. He's sent into hiding, but returns briefly to say goodbye to his elderly mother (Daisy Campbell) and Katie Fox (Lya de Putti), whom he loves. She, however, is passionately in love with Gypo Nolan (Lars Hanson), and though Frances long ago accepted this, when Gypo glimpses them together he believes Katie unfaithful.

Spurred by jealously he informs on his best friend to the police and Frances is killed. The outraged IRA quickly suspect Gypo to be the informant, and he soon learns that Katie was merely hiding Frances in her flat until he could briefly reunite with his mother. As the IRA closes in, Gypo tries to make sense of the terrible thing he has done.

American-born but German-raised Arthur Robison, best known for his German expressionist classic Warning Shadows directed The Informer, while Werner Brandes and Theodor Sparkuhl, also Germans, shot it. They, no doubt, account for the film's impressive camerawork and cutting, which despite the Irish setting and British backing has a definite German flavor. It's not particularly showy, but evocative and effective.

The leads weren't British, either. Lya de Putti was Hungarian who likewise spent much of her career in Germany for directors including E.A. Dupont, F.W. Murnau, and Frtiz Lang. Lars Hanson was a Swede, in films there before moving to Hollywood at the invitation of Lillian Gish. There he appeared in The Scarlet Letter (1926), Flesh and the Devil (1927), and The Wind (1928), among others before returning to Europe.

In the silent version, both give remarkable performances. De Putti, like Lillian Gish, uses her big, expressive eyes in contrast to a generally placid face, though she's also exceptional in the emotional highlights with Hanson. Hers in more of a classically silent style of film acting in relation to Hanson, whose acting is impressively internalized; one can read his racing, conflicted emotions throughout. Both his looks and performance style appear very modern.

For the part-talkie version, both actors were dubbed. He's given an absurdly deep, booming voice that unfortunately quickly becomes comical rather than effective. Her voice is dubbed by an English actress, and most of the rest of the cast have English accents also, effectively negating the Irish setting.

The film's main sets, notably a large exterior that might be enclosed on a large soundstage, or on a backlot, or maybe even redressed streets somewhere in London, are as much expressionistic and Irish in design, but they capture the mood well. At no point is the IRA called by name, and British-Irish politics are downplayed to the point where the film might have been about honor among thieves as Irish radicals. Similarly, Catholicism plays no role in the story until the final scenes which, though effective, do rather come out of nowhere.

Ford's film apparently is more faithful to O'Flaherty's novel, but this Informer is nonetheless most engrossing and tautly paced, with many impressive scenes and fine acting throughout.

Video & Audio

This BFI-funded restoration mostly sources what apparently is the original nitrate negative about 90% of the time, digitally restored theatrical prints and other secondary elements the rest. Mostly it looks great, clean and very sharp with subtle tinting throughout. The new score by Garth Knox compliments the film nicely, mixing traditional Irish music (including, inevitably, "Danny Boy") with very modern orchestration but it works, somehow. The 1920 x 1080p image is 1.33:1 full frame with subtle tinting and English intertitles. The music is offered in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, and the disc is Region "A" encoded.

Extra Features

Included is the aforementioned sound version, running 84 minutes compared to the 99-minute silent version. A visually interested but unexplained restoration demonstration is also featured.

Parting Thoughts

A welcome release, The Informer, in its silent version, is a major release that looks and sounds great on Blu-ray, and thus Highly Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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