Wednesday 11 October 2023

Movie Review: Odd Man Out (1947)

Genre: Drama Thriller
Director: Carol Reed
Starring: James Mason, Kathleen Ryan 
Running Time: 116 minutes

Synopsis: In Northern Ireland, Johnny McQueen (James Mason) is a local leader with the "Organization", fighting for a political cause. Recently released from prison, his colleagues suspect he is going soft. A robbery to raise funds for the movement goes wrong, with Johnny wounded, forced to shoot a man, and abandoned to hide on his own as a police manhunt closes in. Organization members and Johnny's close friend Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan) scramble to help, while the rapidly weakening Johnny encounters varying levels of help and sympathy from interactions with normal citizens going about their business.

What Works Well: Without delving into the political context, director Carol Reed and writer R.C. Sherriff adapt the F.L. Green book and leverage Northern Ireland's underlying mood of tension and suspicion. The focus is on the actions and reactions of locals not directly involved in politics, who can either help or profit from a fugitive's plight. Reed's perspectives, staging, and camera placements are often spectacular, with masterful use of shadows, light, glistening bricks, and confined spaces. Kathleen's dogged determination to help Johnny at great personal risk emerges as the strongest narrative anchor, leading to an audacious ending.

What Does Not Work As Well: Despite James Mason conveying the agony of a fading man with aching excellence, the drama suffers from a sidelined protagonist. Especially in the second half, Johnny is reduced to a package shuffled around and argued about by others. Among the locals deciding his fate, the greedy Shell (F.J. McCormick), aspiring artist Lukey (Robert Newton), failed medical student Tober (Elwyn Brook-Jones), and priest Father Tom (W.G. Fay) are afforded undue screen time. The perspectives of simpletons engaging in obtuse profundities is unique, but far from compelling.

Conclusion: The stark unavoidability of an insidious conflict at the street level.

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