Monday, March 6, 2017

1935: The Informer

Screenplay by Dudley Nichols
Adapted from the novel The Informer by Liam O'Flaherty

When penniless, dim-witted Gypo Nolan is approached by his best friend, Frankie McPhillip, who has been in hiding because there's a price on his head, Gypo betrays him for cash without pausing to think about the consequences. But informers are dangerous to the Revolutionary Organization, to which Gypo and Frankie once belonged, and its leaders are determined to discover and exterminate the culprit.

I don't know a whole lot about the Irish Civil War, so I'm not sure I fully understood the context of this story. Even so, it was very stressful, both to read and to watch. I couldn't condone Gypo's actions, but also couldn't help feeling sorry for him. I kept trying to tell him to stop spending his money so obviously, to lay low so no one would suspect him, but he didn't listen to me in either the book or the movie. Consequently, this is definitely not one of my favorite movies (or books), but as far as adapted screenplays go, it's pretty good.

The story is essentially the same in both versions, with a few notable changes, almost all of which served to make the major characters more likable in the film. The movie starts with Gypo's girlfriend, Katie, berating him for having no money and wishing for £20, which would be enough to take them to America. As it happens, £20 is exactly the price the police are offering for information regarding Frankie's whereabouts. In the book, however, he has no such plan for the funds, never mentions going to America, and doesn't even seem to really care about Katie all that much. After Gypo's meeting with Frankie in the book, all he can think about is how he has no money for a bed for the night, and somehow convinces himself that the only way to get it is by informing, which is blatantly not true. The movie makes his betrayal more understandable; there's no way he'd be able to get £20 any other way, and since this was an American-made movie, of course he'd want to come to America, right? But in the book, he doesn't need anywhere near £20, and the narrator mentions several alternative ways he could have gotten enough for a bed, but for some reason, they don't occur to Gypo. This is just one of several instances when the movie tweaks situations and motives to make not only Gypo, but also Frankie, Katie, and Dan (the leader of the Organization) more relatable and comprehensible. Most of the characters in the book are pretty despicable, which I think was part of the point of the story, but I can certainly understand the temptation to make them a little better for the film.

Otherwise, it's a pretty faithful adaptation. A lot of the dialogue is taken directly from the novel. There are several introspective passages in the book that put us inside the heads of various characters, and I thought the movie did a good job of showing Gypo's thoughts in particular, especially when he's making the decision at the beginning. The wanted poster that he initially tears down keeps following him, and he starts seeing it everywhere, and this visual and the actor's reactions are more than enough to capture pages of Gypo wrestling with himself. Later, when he's on his spending spree, the movie introduces a man who follows him around and encourages him. This character is not in the novel, and he has no name in the movie, so part of me thought he wasn't actually real, since pretty much everything he said or did was something Gypo thought in the book. But other characters interacted with him, so I guess he was supposed to actually be there, and not a figment of Gypo's drunken imagination, which would have been interesting. Regardless, this character helps bring Gypo's thoughts to life the way the narrator does in the book, which works quite well. Overall, I was quite impressed with how the movie dealt with scenes that I didn't think would lend themselves to film, so if for no other reason, that's why it deserved this award.

The winner of 1936 was the final original screenplay that didn't get its own separate category, so that will be the last year I'll skip. Next on this blog will be 1937's Best Picture Winner, The Life of Emile Zola, based on the book Zola and His Time by Matthew Josephson.