Odd Man Out Review
|Back on a limited release in selected cinemas in restored 35mm and digital prints for its 60th anniversary, Carol Reed’s 1946 film Odd Man Out stars James Mason as the member of an Irish illegal organisation on the run from the authorities. It’s a timely reissue in more ways than one, coinciding as it does with Carol Reed’s centenary, but its new theatrical release also gives viewers the opportunity to see it in a new light, and like last year’s re-issue of The Fallen Idol, the years have been kind to it, making it a film that seems to have matured with age.
Odd Man Out has however - and almost certainly always will - remained in the shade of Reed’s perennial masterpiece The Third Man (1949). The two films have much in common, filmed in cities heavily scarred by WWII bombings, using the devastation as a backdrop for moral conflicts of a society with an ambivalent attitude towards the ruling authorities. With age, like post-war Vienna in The Third Man, the Belfast in Odd Man Out is a lost phantom city, one where the familiar landmarks of the Albert Clock and The Crown bar are evident, but set amid the desolation of the bombed sites and partly filmed on meticulously recreated studio sets, they have the skewed geometry of a city that no longer exists except in some lost, mythic, archaeological realm.
It’s in such an Atlantean place that you will find a group of IRA volunteers gathering for a genteel cup of tea while they discuss the robbery of a Belfast linen mill. James Mason is Johnny McQueen, the leader of ‘The Organisation’ (they are never actually referred to as the IRA or any other real-life paramilitary group), a convict on the run planning a return to illegal activities. The robbery however goes wrong, leaving McQueen wounded and holed-up in an old air-raid shelter. As his colleagues brave the streets to look for him, including a girl Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan), who loves him and is trying to organise his escape from the Belfast docks, the dying man finds himself stumbling into diverse groups of characters on the street, some wishing to help, others wanting nothing to do with him, others still prepared to exploit him for their own gain.