(director: John Ford; screenwriters: from the novel by Liam O’Flaherty/Dudley Nichols; cinematographer: Joseph H. August; editor: George Hively; music: Max Steiner; cast: Victor McLaglen (Gypo Nolan), Heather Angel (Mary McPhillip), Preston Foster (Dan Gallagher), Margot Grahame (Katie Madden), Wallace Ford (Frankie McPhillip), Una O’Connor (Mrs. McPhillip), Donald Meek (Peter Mulligan), J.M. Kerrigan (Terry), Joe Sawyer (Bartly); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Ford; Warner Home Video; 1935)
“A heavy-handed, dreary and unimaginative work.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Previously made in England in 1929, and starring Cyril McLaglen. John Ford (“The Lost Patrol”/”Young Mr. Lincoln”/”The Black Watch”) remade it in 1935 with Cyril’s brother Victor McLaglen in the lead. It’s based on the novel by Liam O’Flaherty and written by Dudley Nichols. Ford’s moody overrated black and white drama concerns itself with a psychological study of a modern day Judas, Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen), a lumbering oafish boozy giant of a man in the 1922 Dublin underworld during the Black and Tan terror.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
Irish rebel Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford), a member of Sinn Fein, has a £20 price tag on his head for any information leading to his arrest. His best friend is the simple-minded Gypo Nolan, previously bounced from the Sinn Fein for not following orders, who becomes interested in the reward money when his whore girlfriend, Katie Madden (Margot Grahame), cuts him up for having no dough for her to book passage for a trip to America. Gypo tells the British army that he has just seen Frankie in his mom’s (Una O’Connor) house and the soldiers kill Frankie in front of his mom and his sister (Heather Angel). After collecting the reward, Gypo finds his way to the pub unsure of what he did was right. At Frankie’s wake, Gypo’s suspicious behavior makes him a suspect and he’s taken to the IRA commander, Dan Gallagher (Preston Foster), who tells him he will by allowed to rejoin the group if he can reveal the traitor. Gypo unsuccessfully tries to finger the tailor (Donald Meek) as the informer. Afterwards retreating to the pub, a conman named Terry (J. M. Kerrigan) gets him to squander all his reward money on entertainment. The rebels bring him back to their headquarters when his accusation against the tailor doesn’t check out, but he escapes before he’s executed. Katie goes to Dan to plead for his life, but accidentally gives away his hiding place. The rebels shoot him, but he manages to stagger to the nearby church and face a praying Frankie’s mom to confess his guilt. She forgives him because he didn’t know what he was doing.
It’s basically a heavy-handed, dreary and unimaginative work, that lacks the power that the early critics said it had. The acting is overbaked, the drama is pointless and the narrative is tedious, as only the expressive shadowy street photography by Joe August is worthy of being called great in this middling film.
McLaglen won the Academy Award for Best Actor. In addition Ford received his first of six Oscars, and Max Steiner won for Best Score. Dudley Nichols won for Best Screenplay but refused it out of loyalty for his fellow writers, who had quit the Motion Picture Academy over union issues. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, but lost to The Mutiny on the Bounty.
REVIEWED ON 2/9/2007 GRADE: C