The Informer [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (22nd April 2017).
The Film

“The Informer” (1929)

During the Irish War of Independence, revolution party member Francis McPhilip (played by Carl Harbord) accidentally shoots the chief of police during a raid of their premises. As harboring a suspected murderer would be dangerous for the party and its members, Francis is given money to escape to America and away from the authorities. But before he is to make his exit from Ireland, he tries to persuade Katie (played by Lya De Putti) to join him in his fugitive life in America. Fellow party member Gypo Nolan (played by Lars Hanson) does not find Francis’ persuasion to be fair as he is also in love with Katie, alas jealousy ensues.

Gypo decides to take his feelings to action by informing on Francis’ whereabouts to the police, which unfortunately leads to a violent death rather than a simple arrest. Gypo feels some guilt for being the anonymous tipper that leads to his party member’s death and especially taking the reward money from the police - but this guilt turns to vicious greed…

“The Informer” was a novel written by Liam O'Flaherty in 1925 - set during the Irish War of Independence and published only three years after Ireland became a fully independent nation. While in the novel the time and setting is made clear, the filmed 1929 adaptation kept a few things ambiguous without pointing fingers or names. The terrorist/revolutionary party members were just part of “The Party” rather than giving them a true identity or even a fake name for the film, as the British Board of Censors had its policy on political association controversy. By 1929 studio filmmaking was moving towards talkie productions for its major works, but silent cinemas were still the majority of theaters. Like many other productions of its time period, “The Informer” was made in two versions - a silent version and a talkie version. The same cast, same crew, same sets, and sometimes the same footage but with a few scenes being completely different.

Directed by German-American director Arthur Robison, shot by German cinematographers Werner Brandes and Theodor Sparkuhl, and edited by American editor Emile de Ruelle, the crew of the film was certainly international. The cast as well. Lya De Putti was Hungarian, Lars Hanson from Sweden, Dennis Wyndham a South African, while much of the rest of the cast was English. The atmosphere created in the film is absolutely astounding, from the dark shadowy alleys with large shadows, the medium closeups on faces for the expressions, and the visual displays of tracking shots and camera movement including the amazing shot of Gypo walking across the street in a well-choreographed street set. The actors give fine performances too (in the silent version - as will be explained later). Carl Harbord’s character of Francis is someone the audience must empathize with even if he is a murderer on the run. Lard Hanson’s Gypo is the biggest game changer as he goes from despicable to becoming a protagonist, and later as someone untrustworthy - a flip flop of character making things unusually uncomfortable yet very watchable. Lya De Putti’s character of Katie is one the audience wants to see happy but she is placed in a very hard emotional position, the performance is again of excellence. But then, there is the sound version of the film…

In the days of silent cinema it was very common for actors to appear in films from countries other than their native country, as silent cinema would permit. With the advent of sound this caused an issue, as either actors could not speak other languages other than their own, had a heavy accent, or that their voices were not pleasant for early microphones. These problems can be witnessed in “Singin’ in the Rain” or “The Artist”, but as a prime example of the power lost for some in transition from silent to talkie is “The Informer”. For the first half of the film, the silent and sound versions are nearly identical with mostly the same shots abd same intertitles shown on screen. But during the interrogation scene at 47 minutes in, this is the first time to hear the voices of the actors. The actors are stilted in their actions and delivery and their accents seem to state that they are not Irish for the most part. In these mirrored scenes in the silent version they are about the tense moods and the visuals to give a better sense of the emotional draw. In the talkie version even the camerawork and lighting can be static and boring due to the action being concentrated on the actors speaking rather than the scene entirely. The silent version is an amazing piece made when silent cinema was basically perfected. The sound version is an unusual hybrid film - not completely a talkie or a silent. Even similar films like “Lonesome” that used the hybrid technique - as a masterpiece of filmmaking it was, the talking scenes bogs the film down, using the microphones more as a gimmick rather than that of full effect, such as “The Jazz Singer” which fully utilized the silent/talkie hybrid to its best.

The story of “The Informer” has been made into feature films a few times over the years. The 1929 film was the first. The 1935 Hollywood adaptation of “The Informer” is still the most famously known, directed by John Ford who was a distant cousin of writer O’Flaherty, and also the 1968 film “Uptight” which was not set in Ireland but in urban America - directed by Jules Dassin. The 1935 film is very close to the source novel while the 1929 film takes quite a few liberties with the story, characters, and even plot twists, but nevertheless it is an incredibly entertaining dramatic piece filled with action, tension, and visually inventive sequences.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can play back on any Blu-ray player worldwide

Video

The BFI presents both versions of the film in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The sound version of the film was restored in 2005 from the picture camera negative while the silent version was restored in 2014. For the sound version the transfer has its issues with stability, dust, specs, and other damage to the frame, but clarity and detail of the pure black and white image looks great. It is wobbly and unclean but never too distracting to get in the way of the enjoyment. Title cards and intertitles are also from the original print. As for the silent version, this looks in every way superior. The dust and specs are nearly gone, with major damage completely removed. The image is stable and the film is covered in a light lavender tint throughout as it was originally to have been printed and projected. As for the credits and intertitles, they were fully recreated and placed authentically to the finished restoration. The sound version has a good but lesser restoration while the silent version is simply amazing.

The silent version gets an "A" rating while the sound version is a "B-", so the rating below is the average "B+"

The silent version runs at 20fps and its runtime is 99:42.
The sound version runs at 24fps and its runtime is 84:08.

Audio

Silent Version:
Music DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Music LPCM 2.0 stereo

Sound Version:
English LPCM 2.0 mono

The silent version of the film has a newly composed score by Irish musician Gareth Knox in both lossless 5.1 and 2.0 stereo tracks. Using many traditional Irish instruments but infusing them with modern arrangements, the soundtrack is both contemporary and historical in its sound with very good use of dividing the sound out in the surround field. It may not be what cinemagoers experienced when it played in 1929, but is a great modern accompaniment.

The sound version was transferred from the original optical negative track. The music was performed by the British International Symphony Orchestra, heavy on its music use as most of the film is in fact a silent film. There are also sound effects such as cars, gunfire, and others to accentuate the soundtrack as a supposed talkie with foley effects. Once the dialogue scenes come in, things go wildly different. Music is completely muted out and a scratchy audio track comes in with slightly distorted voices. The track has been remastered but there’s only so much that could be done. There are no major audio issues but there is some hiss and distortion that plays throughout.

Both the silent and sound versions include English Intertitles for the film, with explanatory text and for dialogue, with the sound version having it for the majority of the beginning of the film and moving to “talking” dialogue for the latter half. Unfortunately the sound version does not include English subtitles for the talking scenes.

The silent version gets an "A" while the sound version is a "B-", so the rating below is the average "B+"

Extras

“The Informer” is a 2 disc set with one Blu-ray with the film and extras, along with one DVD that has the identical contents to the Blu-ray but in the standard definition PAL format.

"Shaping the Silence" featurette (9:41)
This featurette is divided into two parts: Part 1 - The Music of The Informer and Part 2 - The Scoring Sessions. Focusing on the newly created score, it features an interview with Gareth Knox on the creation and footage of the recording sessions.
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Restoration Demonstration" featurette (4:52)
This featurette has side by side comparisons of the silent/sound versions and also before/after restoration comparisons of a few scenes.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, 1.78:1, in English/Silent LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Topical Budget Newsreels (with Play All) (8:07)
- I Want Peace (0:43)
- Is It the Dawn? (0:53)
- Historic Unionist Conference at Liverpool (0:31)
- Irish Peace Imperilled by Extremists (1:26)

These newsreels were produced by the Topical Budget Company, focusing on events during the Irish War of Independence.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, music LPCM 2.0 with English Intertitles

32 Page Booklet
The booklet contains essays, bios, stills, credits, and other information. The first essay is ”The Informer” by BFI silent film curator Bryony Dixon giving a brief summary of the film. In the next essay also written by Dixon titled ”The Shape of Noir to Come”, she takes a look at how many elements of the film foreshadowed film noir by more than 10 years in its style and substance with key examples. ”The Informer: From Page to Screen” is an essay by writer Michael Brooke which compares some of the major differences between the original novel and the filmed adaptation. Biographies of director Arthur Robison and writer Liam O’Flaherty are written by Dixon and Brooke respectively. Credits for the film are fully presented (including an uncredited early role by Ray Milland). Musician and composer Garth Knox’s article “About the Music” has his thoughts on making the score and the challenges he faced. There is a bio on Knox as well as full credits for the music score. The special features also have further notes on content, year, and other useful information. The BFI National Archive’s Kieron Webb’s notes on the restoration are also printed, as well as restoration credits and acknowledgements.

The BFI presents quite a lot of good content on the disc, but it seems like a lack of commentary is a missed opportunity, as well as not including the 1935 and 1968 remakes - but that may be an entirely other package there.

Overall

The 1929 version of “The Informer” will always be eclipsed by the far superior 1935 Hollywood production, but the 1929 film is still a marvel of a film - the silent version that is. The alternate sound version is more of a curiosity piece that is fascinating in its comparison and gladly the BFI has included both versions on the disc. The transfers are great and the extras are informative as always making this yet another recommended silent restoration from the BFI.

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B Overall: B+

 


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