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Like Fritz Lang’s M (1931), where it’s the criminals themselves who track down a detestable child murderer and force him to stand trial before a jury of his peers, Gypo is brought before an IRA tribunal, where his plan to pin it all on some other pitiful chump falls apart and he’s left to explain the unexplainable, where half mad with fear, Mc Laglen is at his wits end trying to find any words that make sense to the people standing in that crowded basement room, but only ends up incriminating himself.The sickening descent into the Hell of one’s conscience is a road paved with guilt and personal torment, where Mc Laglen is a pitiful sight, pitied by all who are embarrassed by what he stands for, a coward, a bully, an alcoholic, expressing weakness, mistakes, human frailty, where there’s no place for that when fighting stronger, better financed, and better organized forces of tyranny with only political slogans and a few firearms.Outraged to find his best girl Katie (Margot Grahame) reduced to prostitution to pay her bills, he’s equally humiliated by getting thrown out of the IRA for refusing to shoot a traitor, especially someone he’s known from the neighborhood.But when he sees a poster offering twenty pounds (equivalent to over a thousand dollars today) for the whereabouts of IRA gunman Frankie Mc Phillip (Wallace Ford), probably Gypo’s best friend, he gets delusions of grandeur, dreaming of marriage and an ocean voyage, especially when the poster is right next to a travel agency advertisement offering voyages to America for only ten pounds, which is one of Katie’s dreams, as she wants a better life.Shot in just 17 days, the film was director Sam Fuller’s favorite movie, filled with melodramatic overreach, made during a time when sound cinema had not yet discovered its own identity from the Silent era, as acting was just as exaggerated.The film was not an instant success, but received glowing critical reviews afterwards, winning Academy Awards for Ford as Best Director, Nichols for Best Screenplay (but he refused the Oscar due to a Screen Writers Guild strike at the time), Mc Laglen for Best Actor, and Max Steiner for Best Music, bringing Ford a critical reputation that he would sustain throughout his career, becoming one of the iconic leaders of the industry.This film has fallen out of favor from the heavily idealized portrait of the IRA as the common man’s alternative to British oppression, but it’s one of the smaller, more psychologically interior films Ford ever made, using expressive visuals to enhance the drama, eventually discarding his interest in expressionism for his love of location shooting, framing his characters against the backdrop of the rugged Western frontier. Kerrigan, a little man who plays the same despicable freeloader role in The Long Voyage Home (1940), a repugnant, slimy hanger-on to anyone with money in their pocket.

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Ford’s personal connection to Ireland was through his parents, both Irish-born, where there’s some reason to believe Mc Laglen’s robust portrait of a heavy drinker with a volatile temper, but also an affable charm, is based on his own father. But the film belongs to Mc Laglen, who became known for playing lovable drunks, who was apparently bullied by the director into giving a great performance, often told by Ford he was off schedule, where Mc Laglen was prone to drink in his down time, but would then be called back to the set, forcing him to work in a semi-drunken condition, often filming what the actor thought were rehearsals, appearing overly weary, bewildered and confused, searching for his lines, which is exactly what Ford was looking for.This story may be more of the myth and John Ford lore that seems to accompany his films, but Mc Laglen’s physically demanding performance dominates the screen, playing the well-intentioned but dim-witted Gypo as a big brute who loves to be the center of attention, a gentle giant with a soft spot for tenderness, whose weakness is he can’t resist flattery.

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