THE INFORMER (1935), directed by John Ford. Adapted by Dudley Nichols from the book by Liam O’Flaherty. Starring Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Margot Grahame, Una O’Connor, Wallace Ford, and Joe Sawyer.
Based on a Liam O’Flaherty novel, the informer of the title is a simple-minded brute named Gypo Nolan, who has fallen out with his IRA comrades in Dublin in the early 1920s. Short of cash, Gypo succumbs to temptation and betrays his friend Frankie (Wallace Ford), an IRA volunteer wanted by the police, for a reward of £20. He plans to use the money to win the love of a girl he admires and travel to America, if there’s enough left over.
Set in a grimy, claustrophobic Dublin torn apart by violent confrontation with the British, the dark forebodings of Gypo’s conscience close in on him like a dank fog after a drunken night on the town during which he squanders the reward money. His former IRA comrades track him down to exact revenge for the loss of their comrade, whose death he caused, and Gypo is too slow-witted to talk his way out of it.
Victor McLaglen stamped his authority on the role of Gypo with such conviction that he carried the whole film to a level far above its drab mise-en-scene, and won an Oscar for his performance. John Ford won an Oscar for his direction, as did Dudley Nichols for his screenplay. "The Informer" earned a fourth statuette for Max Steiner’s musical score.
CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935), directed by Michael Curtiz. Adapted from Raf’l Sabatini’s book by Casey Robinson. Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia De Havilland and Lionel Atwill.
Erroll Flynn’s first lead role made a star of the devilish Tasmanian and set him up for a rollicking career as Hollywood’s leading swashbuckler until his wild social life got the better of him.
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In this Caribbean pirate drama, set in the 1680s, Flynn plays an Irish surgeon named Peter Blood, who is lifted by the authorities in England for treating the wounds of anti-Royalists injured in a skirmish with crown forces. He is deported to the West Indies, where he is sold into slavery for £20 to Arabella Bishop (Olivia De Havilland), beautiful niece of a senior officer in the British forces at Port Royal.
Blood uses his medical knowledge to gain favor with the gouty governor of the island, and his charm to flirt with Arabella, who has an ethical conflict about fancying a man whom she owns. Blood escapes on a stolen ship with a crew of his fellow slaves and makes a name for himself as Captain Blood, the most feared pirate in the Caribbean. Arabella is captured by a rival pirate and Captain Blood gallantly rescues her. He fully intends to return her to Port Royal, though she fears for his safety in a harbor filled with British naval vessels. But back in England, the defeat of James II and the accession of King William to the throne (a change of personnel which benefited few Irishmen), results in a pardon for Blood, and he becomes governor of the island on which he had been a slave.
Errol Flynn was cast in the title role when the original lead, Robert Donat, backed out after a row with Warner Brothers. Flynn threw himself into the first day of filming, fortified with a bottle of brandy to tone down a fever from which he was suffering. With flailing cutlass and billowing blouse the drunken Flynn nearly fell overboard several times and forgot all his lines, but improvised exuberantly. He was soon hauled up before Jack Warner, notorious for his disapproval of drinking on the set, and Flynn fully expected to get his marching orders. But Warner was so impressed by the footage of Flynn’s performance he grudgingly declined to make an example of him. Flynn romped home with the whole film, leaving his seasoned fellow cast members Lionel Atwill and Basil Rathbone in the dust.
From the opening scenes in England to the finale in Jamaica, Flynn lives the role like there’s nothing more exhilarating in the world than being an actor in a lavish adventure film.
ODD MAN OUT (1946), directed by Carol Reed. Starring James Mason, Robert Newton, Kathleen Ryan, F.J. McCormack, Maureen Delaney and Cyril Cusack.
James Mason stars as Johnny McQueen, an IRA leader on the run in Belfast in Carol Reed’s crisp black-and-white drama. Life on the run has taken its toll of Johnny’s mental health, and his men begin to doubt his leadership abilities as they plan a payroll robbery at a Belfast mill.
As they flee from the scene of the robbery, Johnny is wounded and falls from the speeding getaway car. Despite his injuries he escapes and wanders dazed through the backstreets of Belfast as police launch a massive manhunt for him. A passage is arranged for Johnny on a ship leaving Belfast docks that night, but his comrades have to track him down before the police find him. Time is running out (in the form of the highly mobile Albert Clock, a Belfast landmark visible from almost every window in the film), and there’s a price on his head that tempts one of his neighbors to turn Johnny in when he finds him. Helped and hindered by a range of oddball characters, he makes it to the docks only to encounter a police patrol that fatally shoots both Johnny and the woman who loves him.
Attempts at making and distributing films with IRA themes in 1920s and ’30s often ran afoul of the chief censor in Britain, a former army colonel who had served in Ireland during the War of Independence and had little sympathy for the rebels. Later attempts to dramatize the deeds of the IRA tended to fare better when they were vague with details of the cause for which they were fighting.
"Odd Man Out" has little or nothing to say about the realities of post-partition Belfast, but it is a triumph of style by the director who went on to make "The Third Man" three years later. "Odd Man Out" moves by turns from hard realism, through film noir flourishes, to surreal hallucination, as Johnny’s mind sinks into delirium and his wounded body seeps his life away in the snowy streets of Belfast.