Odd Man Out (1947) Carol Reed
Criterion Collection Blu-ray
Johnny McQueen (James Mason, above), an escapee from a Northern Ireland prison, has been hiding out in the home of his girlfriend Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan) and her grannie (Kitty Kirwan) for several months. He’s gaining strength, but more importantly, he’s planning to rob a local mill to obtain funds for “the Organization,” which, for all practical purposes, stands in for the IRA as much as its unnamed city stands in for Belfast.
During his time in prison, Johnny has come to believe that violence is not the answer, yet he’s been ordered to lead several men from the Organization to pull off the robbery. The men are concerned that Johnny hasn’t yet recovered enough of his strength to carry out the mission. Their concerns are well-founded.
During the getaway, things go wrong: a mill employee is killed and Johnny is injured, hiding out in a shelter. Everyone in the city knows what happened and everyone begins looking for Johnny, including his men, the police, Kathleen, and the locals who want to snag the considerable reward for Johnny’s capture. The hunt is on.
One’s viewing experience of Odd Man Out would suffer from all but the most elementary descriptions of its plot and story, yet I will say that Johnny’s journey and the people he meets along the way account for most of the film’s nearly two-hour running time (quite long for a film noir). It is the people Johnny meets and how they react to him that give Odd Man Out a depth and brilliance that you simply must experience for yourself. Some critics believe that Odd Man Out may even be a better film than Reed’s undisputed 1949 masterpiece The Third Man. After watching both, it’s difficult to argue with them.
Some have questioned whether Odd Man Out is a film noir at all. Unquestionably it is, and not only because of its superb nighttime cinematography (including the gorgeous way the rain and shadows play on brick and cobblestone), but also its themes of trust, betrayal, compassion and greed. Odd Man Out is amazing for what it does and possibly even more for what it does not do: linger on issues of politics and religion.
Other than the outstanding essay in the fold-out leaflet from the always interesting Imogen Sara Smith, I have not delved into the Criterion Blu-ray’s extras, which include an interview with film scholar John Hill, a short documentary on the film, a one-hour documentary on James Mason, an interview with music scholar Jeff Smith on the film’s score by William Alwyn (which, by the way, is one of the most effective music scores in all of film noir), and a radio adaptation of Odd Man Out. With the current Criterion/Barnes & Noble 50% off sale going on, this is the perfect time to pick up this masterwork.