July 11, 2009

Odd Man Out (1947)
Grade: 83/100

Director: Carol Reed
Stars: James Mason, Kathleen Ryan, Robert Newton

What it's about. Set in Belfast, Northern Island. Johnny (a young James Mason) is the local IRA leader, a prison escapee sheltered by full-figured hottie Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan) and her shrewd elderly mother (Kitty Kirwan). Johnny decides to raise funds via a bank robbery, but things go wrong. Johnny escapes only by shooting a man, and is shot in return. Wounded, Johnny is unable to return with the others, and is stranded in the streets of Belfast.

The police launch a huge manhunt for Johnny. Other IRA members are also out looking for him, as is Kathleen, who is in love with him. Johnny's condition worsens as he staggers through a series of keepers, many of whom are anxious to be rid of him but fear reprisal from the IRA.

Some have other motives: priest Father Tom (W.G. Fay) wants his confession, wild drunk Lukey (Robert Newton) wants to paint him, pathetic bird seller Shell (F.J. McCormick) wants a windfall profit, would-be doctor Tober (Elwyn Brook-Jones) wants him in a hospital, IRA man Dennis (Robert Beatty) wants to rescue him, cagey informant Theresa (Maureen Delaney) wants police goodwill by turning him in, Kathleen wants to run off with him, and an inspector with a sweet spot for Kathleen (Denis O'Dea) wants to arrest him.

Based on a novel by F.L. Green, who also co-wrote the screenplay.

How others will see it. Most who see Odd Man Out appreciate it, but it is true (per the imdb.com user ratings) that women like it less than do men. Perhaps the film is too grim, and they would have preferred a happier ending, particularly one in which Kathleen's love for Johnny was requited.

Odd Man Out was unsuccessful at the box office, but in the first year of the BAFTA (i.e. British Oscars) awards, it won Best British Film. It also garnered a minor Academy award nomination. Director Carol Reed struck film critic gold shortly later with The Third Man, leading some to re-evaluate his earlier work. Odd Man Out is now regarded as a classic, although it has not achieved the level of interest of many other great films from the 1940s.

How I felt about it. One suspects throughout that in the end, Johnny isn't going to make it. Several supporting characters opine as much. But he doesn't go down easily. Like the unkillable Rasputin, he always manages to stir from his latest no longer safe hiding place to stagger about to his next encounter, inevitably reuniting with earnest heartbreaker Kathleen. But we know that the Production Code, then active on both sides of the Atlantic, won't allow Johnny to escape unpunished. As The Clash once said, murder is a crime, unless it is done by a policeman.

Adding to the mood of doom, the film is generally darkly lit, especially in the streets of Belfast, which are apparently riddled with narrow cobblestone alleys with plenty of safe houses to hide despite the placement of policemen at every corner. This dark, snowy setting is both good and bad for Johnny, enabling him to avoid the police but not allowing him to escape and receive aid.

It doesn't take long before we feel sorry for Johnny. After all, he regrets shooting the vigilante citizen, who shot him first. The film's most sympathetic character, Kathleen, is our guide to find pity for Johnny. Certainly, we are more ambivalent toward Johnny than to Orson Welles in The Third Man, whose mercenary actions are contemptible.