revisiting city lights (charles chaplin, 1931)
music friday: sleater-kinney

odd man out (carol reed, 1947)

Odd Man Out was the first of three films directed by Carol Reed that made his reputation as one of England’s finest directors. I found the second of those films, The Fallen Idol, good but flawed thanks to a performance by child actor Bobby Henrey that took me completely out of the movie. The final movie of the three, The Third Man, was #5 on my list of my favorite movies of all time. Reed's career is a bit like one of those baseball stars who is an MVP for a few years, and then experiences a long decline, although it is true that Reed received his only Best Director Oscar 20 years later for Oliver! (a movie I quite liked, and a movie which seems underrated despite six Oscars and another six nominations). Reed’s best years, in those post-war films, would rank as the best for most directors.

Odd Man Out begins with an intertitle: "This story is told against a background of political unrest in a city of Northern Ireland. It is not concerned with the struggle between the law and an illegal organisation, but only with the conflict in the hearts of the people when they become unexpectedly involved." This hints at the approach of the film. Belfast is never mentioned, nor is the IRA ever named. No side is taken regarding the battle. The police are seen as just doing their job ... they are not villains. And the IRA is represented by decent people with barely-named grievances. James Mason plays the local leader, Johnny, who is bothered by the increasing violence and who feels guilt when he kills a man during a botched robbery attempt. Our sympathies throughout are with Johnny and his friends, but those sympathies are mostly unrelated to politics. We just want Johnny to live.

Mason is remarkable, especially considering he is the central figure in a noir who is essentially inactive for most of the movie. He is shot in the arm early on, and tries to hide in various spots of the city, but as the movie progresses, he is increasingly immobile. He spends a lot of time sitting or lying in pain. Mason does the majority of his acting with his face, and he covers the gamut of emotions. Meanwhile, Johnny’s friends try to find and help him, while the police try to find and arrest him. That is where the action is in Odd Man Out, where the film moves forward, giving it something of a thriller pacing. But its noir look is what counts. There’s a question whether the narrative is within the noir parameters, but that’s irrelevant. The look of the film works, Mason works, the presentation of the man hunt works, pretty much everything works. And the ending is shattering.

Some will argue that this, and not The Third Man, is the true classic of the three films. There’s room for both. But Odd Man Out isn’t quite the masterpiece that is The Third Man. #878 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. (The Third Man is #51, The Fallen Idol #862.) 9/10. Remade with Sidney Poitier in 1969 as The Lost Man.

 

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