Odd Man Out (1947): Carol Reed’s Masterful Political Thriller of Doomed Fugitive, Starring James Mason in Brilliant Performance, Kathleen Ryan, Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack

A haunting political thriller, laced with profoundly lyrical and philosophical touches, about a doomed Irish fugitive, Odd Man Out is Carol Reed’s breakthrough film as a director after a long, somehow undistinguished career.
Grade: A (***** out of *****)
Odd Man Out

Theatrical release poster
Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

Reed would follow this success with two other films that would become classics of British (and world) cinema, “The Fallen Idol,” and arguably his most fully realized feature, “The Third Man,” which starred Orson Welles.

In one of his greatest performances 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 in order 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 sort of a road film: Johnny is harbored by an aggregate of strange people who either want to help him or harm him by handing him over to the British authorities.

Johnnys ordeal is intercut with scenes 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.

Last Scene (Spoiler Alert)

A sympathetic police inspector (O’Dea), who earlier led a search of Kathleen’s home and warned her against getting involved, shows up, trying to get information from Father Tom.  Slipping away, Kathleen arranges passage on a ship for Johnny and goes searching for him. She takes Johnny toward the ship but sees the police closing in.  When he asks, “Is it far?” Kathleen replies, “It’s a long way, Johnny, but I’m coming with you.” She then draws a gun and fires, forcing the policemen to kill them both.

Though Johnny is initially presented as a culprit, his agonizing plight slowly transfigures him into a Christ-like figure, a tormented character out of a Dostoyevsky novel.

Mason’s multi-shaded performance as the troubled, and later dying fugitive, enhanced by his unique, richly musical voice, is nothing short of brilliant.  He captures Johnny’s escalating pain and his lingering pride.

The scene in which he encounters an uncomprehending child who’s searching for a ball, looking at her in desperate pathos, is emotionally intense, and truly heartbreaking. As his wounds worsen, Mason’s Johnny becomes deliriously philosophical, forced to realize that he’s all alone in a shady world.

In her screen debut, Ryan, as the loyal and loving woman, who wants to smuggle Johnny out of the country, is terrific; she would never have 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.

Belfast’s dark rainy streets, Mason’s flawed and fall hero, and the brooding mood qualifies this feature as a British film noir at its best.

Here is a film that uses the genre of the political thriller to convey a moving and thoughtful meditation on social existence, imbued with a sense of moral uncertainty.


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 basically decent but is ultimately condemned for his altruistic beliefs.

Though upon initial release, it was not commercially popular at the box office, the film quickly won worldwide plaudits and went on to establish Reed as an internationally renowned filmmaker.

Odd Man Out is a film whose artistic stature and ideological significance continue to grow as time goes by.

James Mason as Johnny McQueen
Kathleen Ryan as Kathleen Sullivan
Robert Newton as Lukey
Cyril Cusack as Pat
F. J. McCormick as Shell
William Hartnell as Fencie
Fay Compton as Rosie
Denis O’Dea as Inspector
W. G. Fay as Father Tom
Maureen Delaney as Theresa O’Brien
Elwyn Brook-Jones as Tober
Robert Beatty as Dennis
Dan O’Herlihy as Nolan
Kitty Kirwan as Grannie
Beryl Measor as Maudie
Roy Irving as Murphy
Joseph Tomelty as ‘Gin’ Jimmy, the cabbie


Produced and directed by Carol Reed
Written by R. C. Sherriff, based on ’’Odd Man Out’’ by F.L. Green
Music by William Alwyn
Cinematography: Robert Krasker
Edited by Fergus McDonell
Production company: Two Cities Films
Distributed by Rank Organisation
Release date: February 1, 1947
Running time: 116 minutes

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