I watched Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out as part of the 1947 in Film Blogathon
SUMMARY: Johnny McQueen, leader of a clandestine Irish organization, has been hiding in the house of Kathleen and her mother, planning a hold-up that will provide his group with the funds needed to continue its activities. During the hold-up, things go sour: Johnny is wounded, cannot make it back to the hideout, and disappears in the back-alleys of Belfast. Immediately, a large-scale man-hunt is launched, and the city is tightly covered by the constabulary, whose chief is intent on capturing Johnny and the other members of the gang. Kathleen sets out in search of Johnny.
In many ways Carol Reed’s stylish thriller Odd Man Out looks and feels like a dress rehearsal for his follow-up, The Third Man. There is the same gorgeous black and white cinematography with an emphasis on skewed angles and Expressionist composition. There is the same sense of intrigue and the same feeling of hopelessness and cynicism.
James Mason plays Johnny McQueen, an Irish revolutionary in Belfast (the IRA is not named although it is clear what group we’re talking about). After a botched robbery of a mill that results in McQueen killing a man and getting shot, he is forced on the run through the city’s back alleys and mean streets.
The film is a curious mixture of film noir and western. The plot operates as somewhat of a funhouse mirror version of High Noon. If McQueen can make it to the port before midnight, he can be smuggled out of the country. Various people he meets want to help him; others want to turn him for a reward; and others still just want him to move on and leave them in peace.
What sets Odd Man Out from other against-the-clock thrillers is its arthouse approach to the story and its philosophical musings. It’s filmed in a shadowy, noirish style, and like much of noir, the hero’s fate is sealed. Much of the script (by F.L. Green) concerns mortality (and morality), and in many ways this is an existential film masking as a thriller.
Lukey: [about painting a portrait of the wounded Johnny McQueen] There’s something to be said about him before he dies.
Tober: And about all of us.
Lukey: I understand what I see in him.
Tober: What is it?
Lukey: It’s the truth about us all.
Tober: Is that all?
Lukey: He’s doomed.
Tober: So are we all.
Consider the types that McQueen comes across. There are his fellow gang members, who don’t really think he’s up to the robbery in the first place (he’s been hiding out for several months and may have lost his nerve). A couple of women take him in and treat his wound; the husband of one wants him out of the house. A cabman smuggles him past a Police cordon and then dumps him in the rain, but not before asking him to tell his comrades to remember that he helped him.
There’s a ne’er-do-well who sees a chance for reward money (significantly, he doesn’t care who pays him the reward: the IRA for returning Johnny, the Police for turning him in, or the Church for helping to save his soul); a priest who is trying to find him to hear his last confession; a girl who is in love with him (and who forces the Police to kill them both rather than see McQueen tried and executed); and most bizarrely, a drunken artist who wants to capture his expression as he dies.
The painter is played by Robert Newton in an over-the-top, scenery-chewing performance that is at odds with the rest of the film. As a portrait of an artist it’s something of a stereotype: he’s a drunken, garrulous sot.
The rest of the cast (mostly Abbey actors) fare well, and while there is a bit of stage-Irishness about some of the proceedings, it’s by no means its defining feature.
As for James Mason, this has to rank as one of his best performances (it was his own favourite film). His famous golden voice is reduced to a whisper and he looks drained (and his Irish accent is actually fairly decent).
As The Third Man did a splendid job of capturing bombed-out Vienna, Odd Man Out has an utterly authentic feel for working-class Belfast: the rain, the cobbled laneways, the shipyards, the miserable back-streets, and above all, the pinched, grimy faces of its citizens.
The cinematography is by Robert Krasker, and as in The Third Man, it’s wondrous: all figures in half-darkness and threatening shadows.
Odd Man Out‘s splendid cast includes Cyril Cusack, Denis O’Dea, W.G. Fay, Elwyn Brook-Jones, Dan O’Herlihy, Fay Compton, Kathleen Ryan, and William Hartnell.