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According to Variety, Robert Sisk, a former publicity and ad director for RKO, who later became a prominent RKO producer, assisted on the making of this film. Modern sources state that Sisk, an Irish-American, made production suggestions that were drawn from his knowledge of Celtic lore. Dudley Nichols and John Ford worked on the screenplay while cruising Ford's schooner off the coast of Mexico, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item. RKO borrowed Heather Angel from Universal for this film. According to a Hollywood Reporter production chart, Walter James, Fred Hagney, Harry Allen, Maude Eburne and Pat Somerset were cast members, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed.
The Informer won four Academy Awards: John Ford, Best Direction; Victor McLaglen, Best Actor; Dudley Nichols, Best Screenplay; and Max Steiner, Best Music Score. The film was nominated as Best Picture, but lost to Mutiny on the Bounty. Nichols at first refused to accept his award because of a feud that was raging between the Screen Writers' Guild and the Academy, but finally collected it at the 1938 Academy Awards ceremony. Film Daily included The Informer in its "ten best" poll of American film critics, and the film earned the New York Film Critics "Gold Medal" award for best picture of 1935. Among the many other awards that The Informer and its filmmakers won were the Prix du Roi, the highest prize of the 1935 Brussels International Film Festival, and the National Board of Review's best picture award for 1935. Modern sources state that press agent Barret McCormick predicted that The Informer would be an enormous success with the critics and be on every "ten best" list in the nation. Although his prediction proved accurate, the film, whose budget was reported by New York Times at $218,000 (modern sources list the budget as either $215,000, $243,000 or $340,000), barely recovered its cost in its initial release. However, the film was "revived" in late 1935 and 1936 and, according to New York Times, became the "most substantial money maker" on the RKO schedule.
In a contemporary interview in New York Times, Ford relates the following information about the making of The Informer: In 1933, Ford, who was a close friend of author Liam O'Flaherty, and screenwriters James K. McGuinness and Dudley Nichols approached Fox, where they were all working at the time, about buying the screen rights to O'Flaherty's novel. Fox and several other studios turned down the project, however. Sometime later, while Ford and Nichols were working at RKO, they talked to J. R. McDonough, then studio head, about the book, and McDonough agreed to pursue the matter, but met with strong resistance from production chief B. B. Kahane. Although apprehensive about the story's box office appeal, Kahane and other RKO executives, who had expressed similar doubts about Ford's very successful 1934 film The Lost Patrol, eventually agreed to produce the project and bought the novel for $5,000. Ford, who contracted only for a share of the profits, brought the film in $50,000 under budget and completed shooting in three weeks. In the same interview, Ford admitted that he had to talk McLaglen into taking the lead role but denied having "tricked" a performance out of him. According to Ford, McLaglen did not become drunk in order to play drunk, but did leave the memorization of his lines until the last possible minute. Ford also stated that he had "cut all of his films," including The Informer. (George Hively, however, received screen credit and was nominated for an Academy Award.)
In an April 1935 New York Times article about the founding of the Screen Director's Guild (now called the Director's Guild of America), Ford states that an incident that took place shortly after he had finished shooting The Informer was one of the catalysts for the creation of the Guild. Ford claims that while he was leaving the RKO studios one night, he saw a group of men dressed in "Black and Tan" uniforms entering a sound stage. Upon inquiry, he discovered that a producer had ordered additional scenes to be shot for The Informer, without Ford's prior knowledge or consent. This artistic "interference" apparently angered Ford into spearheading the Guild drive.
Although the film had little trouble with American censors, it was cut in Ontario, Canada, and was banned in Peru. The British government demanded 129 deletions, including the removal of all references to violence, "Black and Tans" and the Irish Republic and its army. In 1948, The Informer was revived for general release.
Modern sources state that the film was shot on a single set, which was erected on two stages that reproduced the streets of Dublin. Modern sources add the following credits: Julia Heron (Set decorator) and Eddie Donahue (Assistant director). Additional cast members from modern sources include Jack Mulhall (Lookout), Robert Parrish (Soldier) and Frank Baker. In 1929, British International produced the first screen version of O'Flaherty's novel, which starred Lyade Putti and Lars Hansen and was directed by Arthur Robinson. Jules Dassin directed Raymond St. Jacques and Ruby Dee in a 1968 Paramount release called Uptight, which was loosely based on O'Flaherty's novel (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.5308). Also in 1968, Kermit Bloomgarden secured the rights to Flaherty's novel, to RKO's film and to a play based on the novel in order to mount a Broadway musical version of the story, which was to be written by E. Y. Harburg and Burton Lane. No evidence that the play was ever produced has been found, however.