Monday, January 15, 2018

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #183 - Odd Man Out (1947, dir. Carol Reed)

Carol Reed was a British director best known for a series of dramatic thrillers, culminating in his best-known work, 1949’s The Third Man. Prior to that, he’d worked on ‘B’ pictures in the 1930s and embarked on a run of good-to-excellent films throughout the 1940s, beginning in 1940 with the Hitchcockian wartime thriller Night Train to Munich (widely seen as a sequel of sorts to Hitchcock’s hit The Lady Vanishes). But the “good” run turned to “excellent” in 1947 with Odd Man Out.

Like Night Train to Munich, the film is a thriller that uses a political situation as a backdrop for its drama, not as its actual subject. The film opens with a prologue declaring its lack of political intent as it launches into its tale of Johnny McQueen (the superb James Mason in one of his finest roles), the regional leader of “The Organization” (a thinly-veiled IRA), who has recently escaped from prison and has been in hiding. He’s helped put together a robbery to finance the group and is venturing out for the first time since his escape, despite a weakened physical condition. During the event, things go wrong and he’s wounded, left on his own to escape, with his comrades trying to discreetly locate and help him while a very public police manhunt is underway.

The rest of the film finds Johnny dazed, barely able to move, and closing in on death, encountering different people throughout his travels across Belfast who variously decide to help him or shun him, not wanting to “get mixed up in that sort of thing.” And from the friendly dowager, to the English nurses, to the sympathetic cab driver, to the wary bar owner, to the eccentric and philosophical/artistic trio living in a ruined Victorian mansion, to the priest hoping to save his soul, each interaction with the regular populace of the city gives the characters an opportunity to display their reasons for helping him (or not) – and gives each actor in the cast (many drawn from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre) a chance to turn in superb work as well.

Despite the great acting all around, the main thrust of the film is Johnny’s relationship with Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan), the young woman who loves him both for his cause and as a man, even against the advice of Grannie (Kitty Kirwan) who tells her not to waste her youth on a doomed hero. She continues to try to find and help him when others have given up and, in one of the more startling scenes, offers to take both Johnny and herself to the afterlife before she’d let the police get him.

The film opens on a city clock chiming the time and church bells and clocktowers continue to chime throughout the film, taking on an increasingly doomy overtone as the night progresses and Johnny’s condition worsens. As he loses blood and can’t find respite, the events of his life get increasingly disjointed and the film’s tone turns more grimly philosophical, with the artist trio late in the film offering up the lines: “It’s the truth about us all. He’s doomed.” “So are we all.” And Reed, along with cinematographer Robert Krasker (who also filmed The Third Man), continue to push the film’s opening realism further and further into abstract territory, with the familiar canted angles, backlit chases, and sharp divisions of darkness and light seen in the later film present here and used equally effectively.

In short, the film is a powerhouse of a dramatic crime thriller, anchored by a remarkable performance by Mason – even more remarkable perhaps because he is often a silent witness to the goings-on around him in which others decide his fate – and the continual thread of Kathleen Ryan’s righteous pursuit to save the man she loves.

-         Patrick Brown

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