Odd Man Out (1947)

2010 #115
Carol Reed | 111 mins | TV | PG

It may be a bit of a cop out to begin a review by pointing you to another, but I must recommend Colin’s heartfelt appreciation at Ride the High Country. It certainly inspired me to watch the film, which had been sat on my V+ box for over a year. As you’re going to read that (assuming you haven’t already), I’ll just offer a couple of observations I jotted down.

The consciously episodic story, screenwritten by R.C. Sherriff, author of the exceptional World War One play Journey’s End, presents us with an array of characters. James Mason is ostensibly the star, but he spends much of the film in a daze, drifting from group to group. And that’s fine — it leaves the way open for other characters to shine. For instance I liked the driver, Pat, played by Cyril Cusack. My notes don’t say why, but I thought his character was rather good — not a good guy, perhaps, but a good character. The real star, if anyone, is Kathleen played by Kathleen Ryan, who comes into her own during the film’s final act and its conclusion. I’d throw an adjective in front of “conclusion”, but perhaps you should discover it for yourself.

This episodic structure does make for some lengthy, perhaps even borderline dull, asides. I could do without F.J. McCormick’s Shell and, especially, Robert Newton’s Lukey. (You’ll also note Newton’s performance is criticised in Colin’s piece so, in aid of not sounding like I’m too easily influenced, I’d like to point out I didn’t make the connection between his comments and my own notes on Newton until afterwards.) Shell and Lukey have a bit of a point in the end, but I didn’t enjoy getting through them in comparison to the rest of the film.

What the structure really facilitates is the depiction of a cross-section of Northern Irish life, and particularly their reaction to “the organisation” — it doesn’t take a genius to guess what that means. As the opening scroll said, this is indeed concerned “only with the conflict in the hearts of the people when they become unexpectedly involved”, but by leaving out detail of the politically contentious background to the unrest, it perhaps robs the characters’ indecision of any basis. All bar a couple of exceptions fall into the “don’t want to pick a side, don’t want to get involved” camp, foisting Johnny out of anything to do with them ASAP, but at least it suggests such a view was widespread across people of all backgrounds.

The score, by William Alwyn, is really nice, particularly in certain places — for example when it begins to snow and Johnny wanders the streets, or at its most effective during the haunting climax, as Kathleen hauls a near-dead Johnny through the falling snow towards the safety of the shipyard as the police finally close in.

My notes also say “discuss the use of the kids? And Johnny’s visions?” I’m afraid to say I forget why. Comments on these elements are welcomed.

I hesitate to make a comparison between Odd Man Out and The Third Man, director Carol Reed’s more famous film noir, because I’ve not seen the latter for far too long; but I imagine this holds its own, because it’s certainly an engaging and suitably unusual entry in the genre.

4 out of 5

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