Odd Man Out: Carol Reed’s Masterful Tale of Doomed Fugitive, Starring James Mason

A haunting yet lyrical masterpiece about a doomed fugitive, Odd Man Out is Carol Reed’s breakthrough film as a director after a long, somehow undistinguished career.

He followed this success with two other classics in British cinema, “The Fallen Idol,” and arguably his greatest film, “The Third Man.”

In one of his greatest performance of a long and illustrious career, James Mason plays Johnny McQueen, an IRA leader who breaks out of jail and plans a payroll holdup of a mill in Belfast to fund his underground operations.

Though he abhors violence, Johnny accidentally kills the cashier during the holdup, and is himself critically wounded in the shoulder. This is ironic, since it happens after he comes to believe violence may not be the best solution for change, though he still supports the cause of the IRA.

Left behind by the panicky driver of the getaway car, Johnny stumbles away, descending into nightmare as he becomes more and more delirious from his wound.

The political thriller unfolds as a road film: Johnny is harbored by an aggregate of strange people who either want to help him or hand him over to the British authorities.

Johnnys ordeal is intercut with his girlfriend Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan) and his IRA pals, who are all searching frantically for him. Placed in a cab by a reveler out in the drenching rain, the cabby drops him off at a junkyard, where he is spotted by a caged bird fancier, Shell (McCormick). He figures he can sell him to Father Tom (Fay) and thereby make some cash to help him out in his destitute state. Kathleen has also gone for help to Father Tom, who promises that he will try to save Johnny’s soul and get him to surrender if he finds him.

On another occasion, two spinsters take him in and serve him tea, and then, when they discover he is wounded, bandage him. Johnny finally falls into the clutches of an eccentric painter Lukey (Robert Newton), who wants to catch the look of death in Johnny’s eye before it’s too late.

Struggling free from this madman, Johnny makes his way toward the docks in a final and desperate effort to escape. Kathleen finally finds him there, but so do the police. The downbeat finale is both coherent with the spirit of the tale and very powerful.

Though Johnny is initially presented as a culprit, his agonizing plight slowly transfigures him into a Christ-like figure. Mason’s performance as the dying fugitive, enhanced by his unique musical voice, is nothing short of brilliant. Johnny’s escalating pain, his lingering pride and the desperate look he gives an uncomprehending child whos searching for a ball are searingly intense.

In her screen debut, Ryan, as the loyal and loving woman, who wants to smuggle Johnny out of the country, is terrific; she never had the chance to be so effective in other roles. The film also contains splendid performances from Dan O’Herlihy as Nolan and Cyril Cusack as Pat Johnny’s chief lieutenants.

The fascinating F.J. McCormick as Shell steals most of his scenes as a rag-picking bum who hides Johnny. In contrast, Newton’s Lukey is over the top in a wild portrait of an artist-madman.

The plot and character development of all the protags are well-constructed and enhanced by the magnificent score from William Alwyn. Assisted by Robert Krasker’s gritty black-and-white cinematography, director Reed establishes a proper dark and somber mood in this modern odyssey to doom and death in an uncaring world. Each frame represents yet another lethal step for Johnny as Reed poetically captures his last moments on earth. Look for the weird shot of what manifests itself in Johnny’s beer bubbles.

Belfasts dark rainy streets, Masons flawedand fallhero, and the brooding mood qualifies this film as British noir at its best. Visually reminiscent of John Ford’s The Informer, Odd Man Out also shares thematic concerns with Ford’s The Fugitive; both films depict an intolerable fate for a man who is basally decent but condemned for his altruistic beliefs

Though no commercially popular at the box office, the film quickly won worldwide plaudits and established Reed as an internationally renowned filmmaker.

Reed followed this picture with two other masterpieces, The Fallen Idol, in 1949, and The Third Man with Orson Welles in 1950.

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