Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures
Distributor: RKO Radio Pictures
Top Billed Actors: Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster
IMDb Rating: 7.5
*Best Picture Nominee*
Won 4 Oscars:
Best Director - John Ford
Best Actor - Victor McLaglen
Best Writing (Adapted) - Dudley Nichols
Best Original Score - Max Steiner
Nominated for 2 more:
Best Film Editing - George Hively
Plot: A dim witted Irishman snitches on his friend to make bank and totally doesn't act suspicious throughout the rest of the story. He also drinks his weight in whiskey (he's a large man).
The aforementioned directing and acting awards led me to focus on these aspects of the film. The first shot of the movie is stunning as a large shadow shrinks down to man-sized when McLaglen is introduced. The overall look of the film follows in this artistic vein. Ford creates a setting that is mostly dark, which gives it hints of noir. The framing of the actors is also a highlight. I've noticed a lot of closeups in other movies from this era and this film only utilizes closeups in a much more infrequent, and thus more effective, manner. The best example of the solid directing/acting combination is when McLaglen is mulling over or regretting his decision to inform on his comrade. The "wanted" poster appears to the right with the thoughts flashing across McLaglen's face. Another anecdote highlights Ford's competence; one night, he told McLaglen that he was getting the day off from shooting. Ford knew McLaglen would go out drinking that night, and McLaglen doesn't disappoint. The climactic court room scene is shot the next day with a very hungover McLaglen. Ford banked on this and squeezed out a very genuine performance due to the character drinking for the entire second act of the movie. It also must be said that Max Steiner's score is one of the first times that the original music in a movie has been so memorable in the Project. The main motif is catchy and is also a tone setter. The beginning of the movie almost plays as a silent film, with the balance of the music very loud mixed with not a lot of dialogue from McLaglen. The music is strong enough to carry the story, minutes at a time.
The story does lose some luster in the alcohol-filled second act. There is a point in time of the story in which McLaglen is constantly getting drunker and drunker. His escapades on the town give the viewer an insight on how the poverty-ridden streets of Ireland in the 1920's was like, but they overstay their welcome a bit. The movie is not particularly long, so it does seem counterintuitive to think it should be shorter, but the sequences in which McLaglen proclaims himself as the 'king of the town' are just too monotonous. I also have a personal dislike of seeing actors act drunk for extended periods of time. Whether he was drunk or not, I always picture the actor being sober and trying to ham it up a bit to be a stereotypical drunk. This happens in this second act and I grew tired of it.
Overall, the dark setting, genuine acting, haunting music, and superb writing make this a worthy contender for Best Picture of 1935. If not for the extended drunk sequences, this would be an even more well known classic. I still will call it a must-see.
My Score: 8/10