Late in his career, when James Mason was asked which of his films was his favorite, he didn’t mention his most popular films like A Star is Born or North by Northwest or even 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Rather he mentioned what today is a somewhat overlooked film, Odd Man Out. I can’t but note the irony in this given the film’s title. Although highly regarded on release in 1947, by the time of Mason’s death in 1984 it had already faded into relative obscurity.
And even within director Carol Reed’s filmography Odd Man Out plays second fiddle to what most consider Reed’s strongest film, The Third Man. For many years Odd Man Out was considered by many to be the finest British film in the immediate postwar period. It is a film which, excluding Mason, lacks any true star power. However if anything that is an asset as the viewer is forced to focus more on the story than random cameos, which given the nature of our plot would almost be required.
Mason portrays Johnny McQueen, the leader of an arm of an outlaw band in Ireland. Although it is never explicitly confirmed, it is pretty clear that the organization he is a part of is the IRA. It is unclear why the organization is not officially unidentified, presumably due to politics in the late 40s, but it really doesn’t matter one bit in the big picture. Mason’s group could just as feasibly be a street gang or bank robbers. The clear links with the IRA may have made it play better to British audiences on release, however.
Johnny McQueen has just recently been released from prison and realizes that his group is woefully short on funds: in fact without an infusion of cash quickly they will be forced to disband. Against the suggestions of others, Johnny decides to rob a mill. As his band escapes the mill on the night of the robbery, McQueen gets in a scuffle with one of the mill workers and is shot in the shoulder. His friends are forced to leave him behind.
Badly wounded and bleeding fiercely, McQueen too escapes and the balance of the movie shows his path to escape to an awaiting freighter. He wanders and stumbles through a variety of places, including an abandoned bomb shelter, an elderly couple’s home, a restaurant, and a crazy artist’s studio. At each place he is turned away by this cast of characters for a variety of reasons.
Ultimately no one wants to help him, although they all want something from him. The most outlandish one is, as you can gather from the above, McQueen’s run-in with the artist (played by Robert Newton), who, although McQueen is clearly dying by this point, wants only to paint the expression in the dying man’s eyes prior to his final demise. McQueen’s last encounter is with the woman who loves him, Kathleen. How that ends I will leave to you to see. It’s a powerful ending.
That being said, it is a wonderful film and surely neglected (it is insanely hard to find on DVD) and overlooked. Mason is phenomenal for the most part, though at times his facial contortions seem a bit over the top. Robert Newton, an actor who starred in far fewer films than he should have because of his alcoholism, is in a throwaway part as the mad artist.
Direction and especially photography (by Robert Krasker) are outstanding. There are many shots which deserve mention including many great ones of mist covered cobblestone streets and moonlight glimmering off dark isolated alleys.
It was very refreshing as well to have no real romantic storyline forcibly woven throughout the picture as would be done today. Granted, there is a romance of sorts underway with Kathleen, although the difference is that this fact isn’t made a storyline, but rather just another facet of her character.
It is truly hard to see what could be done to improve the film – I hadn’t seen it prior to this viewing and feel like it may already be a favorite. And for the record, there is no rhyme or reason to what pops up here on the site. But you already know that.
Well worth a look.