By Anthony Miglieri
If director Carol Reed has any claim to fame with the average filmgoer, it is undoubtedly The Third Man (1949). However, even with that film, which is considered by many to be a masterpiece of film noir, much of the notoriety goes to Orson Welles, who played a pivotal role as character Harry Lime and as a co-writer. Admittedly, I am not much more familiar with Reed’s filmography than is the aforementioned average filmgoer, but judging by Odd Man Out (1947), I certainly owe it to myself to see more of his work.
Near the very beginning of Odd Man Out, fresh-from-jail IRA leader Johnny McQueen (James Mason, North by Northwest) and a small crew heist a bank. All goes smoothly until McQueen is wounded in a scuffle with a police officer on the way out, kills the officer, and ends up left behind as his partners speed away in the getaway car. The rest of the film sees Johnny stumbling through the shadowed streets of Belfast, trying to find his way home as his partners, his girlfriend (Kathleen Ryan, The Sound of Fury), the police, and a variety of colorful characters attempt to track him down.
One of the first aspects of Odd Man Out that bowled me over was its technical mastery. The look of this film, shot in black and white and swathed with the inky shadows that are noir’s calling card, is just a knockout. Almost the entire picture takes place at night, and the dark bricks and sky build a beautiful maze for the characters to be suffocated in. I also love the pacing and structure of the movie; it moves slowly and decisively for about two hours, absorbing the viewer into its vivid and thrilling world. By the time the credits rolled, I felt like I had too been soaked in stagnant blood and snow.
Since this plot and world rely so much on the characters, the superb acting all around is essential to the success of Odd Man Out. James Mason, although occasionally shoddy with his Irish accent, creates a mesmeric performance from mostly pained facial expressions and movements. The rotating cast of characters we encounter are also shockingly good, including Denis O’Dea’s inspector and Robert Newton’s crazed painter Lukey. Here I must also credit the great script by F.L. Green and R.C. Sheriff, which paints a bevy of fascinating characters by way of searing dialogue and action.
Odd Man Out also features some seriously affecting emotional and thematic elements. Befitting a film in which the main character is chronically bleeding for most of the runtime, mortality and justice are on the forefront of the film’s mind, and for the most part, these lofty themes are handily achieved. All of the dialogue, the imagery, and the performances swirl together in such a way that when the climax hits, it smacks not only with genuine surprise and force, but also touching eloquence. Sure, there a few heavy handed moments, but even these I feel are almost completely earned.
If, like me, you have only seen The Third Man from Reed’s filmography, rectify that by seeing this. Personally, I even prefer Odd Man Out to that great film from only two years later, as this film did a better job of hooking me emotionally and impressing me technically. Granted, Odd Man Out may not have a smirking Orson Welles, but it does have a magnificently trudging and bleeding James Mason. If that doesn’t appeal to you, well… see it anyway.