“Where’d ya get it, Gypo? There’s enough there to choke a horse!”
In 1920s Dublin, a former IRA member (Victor McLaglen) desperate to help his prostitute girlfriend (Margot Grahame) get off the streets and over to America betrays his best friend (Wallace Ford) to the Black and Tans for 20 pounds.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- John Ford Films
- Preston Foster Films
- Victor McLaglen Films
Peary doesn’t review this John Ford flick in his GFTFF, but he discusses McLaglen’s Oscar-winning performance in Alternate Oscars, where he gives the Best Actor award to W.C. Fields for The Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) but nonetheless commends McLaglen’s performance, noting he “plays it straight and is quite moving as the impoverished Irishman who turns in his best friend for twenty pounds, and then drinks and gives away the money.” He adds that McLaglen “does a good job, barrelling through the misty Dublin sets, touching us with his final search for salvation.” While “Gypo was considered a villain”, he’s actually “a pathetic fellow, almost like a once good, but now dangerous dog that has to be shot.”
McLaglen’s performance is indeed a highlight (as Peary writes, this “was by far McLaglen’s finest performance”), but the entire film deserves note for its highly atmospheric, no-holds-barred portrayal of a doomed and conflicted man, digging his own grave one flawed decision at a time. The cinematography and sets place us not only in the shadowy world of the original IRA but within the tormented soul of a man who suffers instantly for his idiotic actions, and is dogged ruthlessly (perhaps appropriately) from that point forward. It’s somewhat challenging to watch this consistently depressing flick, but Ford’s directorial skill, strong performances across the board, and overall fine production values make it well worth a one-time look.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Victor McLaglen as Gypo Nolan
- Highly atmospheric cinematography and sets
Yes, as a powerful and well-acted — albeit depressing — film. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book, and nominated as one of the Best Films of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars. Selected in 2018 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”