Director: Carol Reed
Screenplay: F.L. Green & R.C. Sherriff
Based on a novel by: F.L. Green
Starring: James Mason, Robert Newton, Kathleen Ryan, Denis O’Dea
Producer: Carol Reed
Running Time: 92 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
Despite counting The Third Man as one of my top 10 favourite films of all time, I’ve not actually seen anything else by director Carol Reed other than family favourite Oliver! (which I only realised was directed by him today when I looked him up on IMDB). Maybe it was my young film snob self ignoring anything old that wasn’t deemed a full on ‘classic’ or simply due to the lack of Reed’s work getting released these days, but I never chanced that he could recreate the magic of his 1949 masterpiece. Luckily those lovely people at Network Releasing have polished up the James Mason starring Odd Man Out for the Blu-Ray generation and offered me a screener to review.
A strange mix of film-noir, heist movie, political thriller and melodrama, Odd Man Out revolves around the awesomely named Johnny McQueen (Mason), chief of a clandestine political organisation in Northern Ireland who has been hiding out for 6 months after escaping from jail. Meeting up with his cohorts, they plan a raid on a mill to fund their activities. Things go wrong though and Johnny ends up killing a clerk, getting shot himself in the process. A further misfortune sends him into hiding once again in the streets of Belfast and as the night draws on and his wounds make him weaker and weaker, his friends and Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan) a woman deeply in love with Johnny, take to the streets to track him down before the police do.
I couldn’t help comparing this to The Third Man. As well as the films sharing a director, they have a similar setting in war damaged cities at night, with chases taking place down dark, dirty, wet streets and a mix of political intrigue with noir stylings. Unfortunately in comparing the two so constantly, the film was a little bit of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, Odd Man Out is very good and deserves more recognition than it gets, but as a whole it doesn’t hold up quite as well as The Third Man. My main issue was with the pacing. With lengthy debates and a multitude of characters and narrative tangents breaking up the core drive of the film, it feels rather indulgent and drawn out compared to the taught excitement of Reed’s later effort.
Saying that, the rich tapestry of characters and interactions was a key element to the film’s strengths though. Where the film succeeds best is in its depiction of the city and all the life within it. Johnny travels all over town to evade capture, stumbling into various alleyways and doorsteps and you truly get the sense of a living city through this journey. Despite a number of suspect Northern Irish accents (Mason’s included), the personalities Johnny meets are all fascinating and varied even though there is a common thread of selfishness which is only broken in the final moments (away from Kathleen’s character of course who is always dedicated to finding and helping him).
What truly brings the city alive on screen and the aspect of the film that did not disappoint, even compared to The Third Man, was the cinematography. Robert Krasker, who worked on both films as DOP, delivers the goods in spades, with the alleyways and rubble looking stunning in high contrast, shadowy black and white. He and Reed get to really go to town in a couple of surreal fever-dream sequences too as Johnny’s weakness and paranoia get the better of him. Rain batters down through much of the first two thirds of the film and this turns to snow for the finale, both of which add a beauty and drama to the imagery. It’s a visual feast that will send fans of film noir photographer to heaven. A quietly tense heist, several chase sequences and a powerful, quite bleak ending all go to prove that Krasker and Reed were the kings of British noir filmmaking.
So yes, although I left the film feeling a little let down due in large to a slow pace and a slightly overloaded script, there is a great deal to appreciate and enjoy in Odd Man Out. As well as the technical marvels described above, its depiction of Johnny’s breakdown as a kind of agoraphobia (even before the heist he is shown to be struggling to adjust out of the enclosures of prison and the safe house) on top of the inherent political content make it a film with more meat on its bones than most films of the period. For these reasons I can still easily recommend Odd Man Out. It may not be the all time favourite The Third Man is to me, but it’s definitely a film I appreciated and would like to see again.
Odd Man Out is out now on Blu-Ray, released by Network Releasing. Picture and sound quality is fantastic. The darker scenes show up some very minor flecks on the print, but these are barely noticeable and overall it looks pristine.
As well as a booklet (not included with my screener), a PDF of the script and an odd unedited interview with James Mason, we get a special feature that had a particular significance to myself. Home, James is a 1972 documentary included in the set which follows Mason as he travels back to his hometown of Huddersfield. This was close to my heart as I come from that area too and he even visits the out-skirting smaller town of Holmfirth where I lived. Although the documentary is quite dated and his description of the town and its locals is overly sentimental and a little condescending at times, I loved watching this time capsule of my home town. I’m not sure how much outsiders would get from the film, but as a piece of genuine nostalgia for the time and place it’s great and I especially loved to see so much of the town’s musical heritage which I was always involved with.
Anyway, away from my nostalgia trip, if the rather odd features aren’t your thing, the quality of the remastered film is excellent and this Blu-Ray is a great way to experience this often ignored British classic.