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.

If Odd Man Out once felt curiously imbalanced and unfocussed in this respect, it all seems to fit together remarkably well now. The film, as it clearly states from its opening titles, is not about Johnny or the Republican cause, and the age of the film now allows us to look beyond this. Johnny McQueen is the conduit through which we see – as in The Third Man and The Fallen Idol - the lives and reactions of the people caught up in times of moral uncertainty - some wanting to help but not get involved, mistrustful of the authorities, others placing their belief in the community and in the priest as their moral compass. For some McQueen’s struggle and martyrdom is an ideal to be followed, for others, such as Robert Newton’s Lukey, he the spirit of artistic inspiration. These are the reactions that the climate and the situation evoke in people, looking for something to grasp on to.

It's the age of the film and its coming to maturity have however helped bring about this welcome shift of emphasis away from what once may have seemed a sympathetic romanticisation, if not an actual glorification of the Republican cause, with James Mason the handsome martyr hounded through the streets of Belfast. It’s the nostalgic ideal of the freedom fighter struggling for an honest cause that many old “true” Republicans regret the loss of, as the cause fell into the hands of those prepared to take the conflict into terrorism and criminality. But, with age and distance, the whole feel of the film, shot in the snowy streets and the dark, shadowy backlit alleys of this mythical Belfast, (and personally speaking, it’s wonderful to see one’s home city get the The Third Man treatment at the hands of Carol Reed and Robert Krasker), now give one the impression that this ideal was almost certainly an illusion.



out of 10

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