In Ireland, one party of Republicans have decided to renounce violence as agreed with the local police in a truce, but as they hold their meeting of the leaders, a shot rings out, then more: someone is firing a machine gun at them from the building across the way and they dive for cover. So much for the truce, they think, but these are their rivals who are aiming at them, and a gun battle erupts that sees one of the younger members, Francis McPhillipp (Carl Harbord) shoot at a man who strides through the door, killing him instantly. Unfortunately for Francis, the deceased was the Chief of Police, and now he is a wanted man with the price of twenty pounds on his head - can he get away with the help of the woman he loves, Katie Fox (Lya De Putti)?
You might think that Francis there was our protagonist, but as the title states, this was not the case, for it was another character who took the lead, the man who tells the law where Francis is. He was Gypo Nolan, played by Swedish star Lars Hanson, and if you are wondering how a Swede got to play an Irishman the you have to understand that in the days of silent movies, since nobody could hear any voices, performers could travel across Europe and America to appear in various productions, make a name for themselves internationally, and find the motion picture business a very profitable line of work. That all came crashing down when talkies were introduced, and The Informer was created in both silent and sound variations.
As you might expect, Hungarian De Putti (whose last film this was) did not sound the slightest bit Irish, and neither did Hanson or indeed Harbord, as he like most of the cast was English. What the producers did was leave the first half with intertitles for the dialogue, then introduce the voices for the second half, with the leads dubbed in the appropriate manner. Except they were not, as it was deemed sensible to give them English accents which in these days of cultural authenticity being paramount, simply comes across as absurd, there were actually very few attempts at Irish accents here. Thus, as you can imagine, the silent version was the preferable one, since it delivered the stern tale of redemption following doom with quite a powerful atmosphere.
Essentially it enabled you to concentrate on the particular ambience of unforgiving rules of an eye for an eye Ireland was depicted as living under, so when Francis is killed trying to escape the cops, it is deemed necessary for Nolan to die also by the men he had once counted as allies. If you're looking for any deeper examination of the Irish Troubles than that, then you would be out of luck, the politics were barely touched upon and the initials I.R.A. never mentioned, what was on offer could have been one of the gangster thrillers and dramas that were growing in popularity as the nineteen-thirties were dawning. You could well see Nolan in a different incarnation as a snitch chased down by Hollywood tough guys for causing the death of a fellow mobster, that was about the level of the piece.
However, there was the spiritual dimension to be taken into account, very plainly presented in the ultimate fate of Nolan. He was in love with Katie as well, and it is his jealousy that prompts him to tell the authorities where Francis was hiding before he had the chance to leave the country for the United States, which ironically is where Nolan will have to make plans for now there is a bullet with his name on it. Yet before the end, Katie has recognised a nobility there that she never expected, and has fallen for him - will the love of a good woman deliver him? Well, no, not really is the answer to that, he must be the architect of his own forgiveness in the eyes of God, which according to this is the most important element, and when he uses his reward money for a good deed, we can perceive he is safely on the way to his reward in Heaven, whenever that may be (although the conclusion is no real surprise). With interesting details like the prostitute who tries to tempt Nolan to get a share of that cash, The Informer was somewhat heavy with portent, straining to be meaningful in a manner that looks overbearing in its rejection of subtlety, its moody qualities were an undeniable strength. Remade in its most famous telling by John Ford shortly after.
[The BFI Blu-ray and DVD features:
A new restoration presented in High Definition and Standard Definition
The sound version of The Informer (1929, 84 mins)
Restoration Demonstration (2016, 5 mins)
Shaping the Silence (2017, 10 secs)
A selection of Topical Budget films from newly independent Ireland
Illustrated booklet with full film credits and essays by Bryony Dixon, Garth Knox and Michael Brooke.]