News And Commentary – Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out, which took home the prize for best British film of 1947, is just out in a sparkling new special edition from The Criterion Collection.  One of the great films of the 1940s, it had not previously been officially available on disc in North America.  Johnny McQueen, the man who finds himself more than just out – he is face down and bleeding on the street as his comrades idle, indecisively, nearby – is played by James Mason, who delivers an outstanding performance that served as his springboard to international stardom.  In a long and busy career, Mason would bring his considerable talents (and mellifluous, precisely calibrated voice) to many memorable roles, including The Reckless Moment (Max Ophuls 1949), North by Northwest (Hitchcock 1959), Lolita (Kubrick 1961) and The Deadly Affair (Lumet 1966).

The nominal plot of Odd Man Out is fairly standard business (if somewhat daring at the time for taking place amidst the sensitive politics of Northern Ireland): an aging, ambivalent outlaw is gearing up for a score, much to the concern of his loyal right-hand man and long-suffering girlfriend.  Inevitably, before they can say I-told-you-so, it’s a heist-gone-wrong (grippingly shot).  And into the long night, the wounded McQueen drifts from one noir-inflected setting to the next, pursued by an army of law.    

The genius of Odd Man Out is that, as he is wounded and spent, ultimately the film isn’t about Johnny, but becomes a series of fascinating Rorschach tests for the dozen or so people with whom he interacts while on the run – cabbies, barkeeps, artists and housewives – as well as for those hoping to track him down or aid in his escape.  Most of these characters are drawn with a generous complexity; even the cop in charge of the dragnet is dedicated but not menacing.  (As he explains to the local priest, who is more concerned with saving souls than solving crimes, “In my profession, father, there is neither good nor bad.  There is innocence and guilt.”)

Director Carol Reed, who also made The Third Man, has an uneven reputation.  (His 1948 film The Fallen Idol has its champions, but Reed never again reached the heights he achieved in the late 1940s.)  Partially for that reason, some detractors have subtly downplayed his contribution to The Third Man, suggestions made easier by the small-but-pivotal role in that film by Orson Welles (who wrote some of his own lines), the lead performance by Welles-affiliate Joseph Cotten, and numerous shots that would not have been out of place in an Orson Welles film.  (Welles himself, it should be noted, was unequivocal – his contributions were very modest.)  

As the screen-captures from the two films below illustrate, however, seen from the perspective of Odd Man Out, The Third Man looks less like an incongruity.  Both films were shot by cinematographer Robert Krasker, who surely was a crucial collaborator, and both were directed, brilliantly, by Carol Reed. 

Odd Man Out 1

Odd Man Out

 

Out Man Out 2

Odd Man Out

 

Third Man 1

The Third Man

 

Third Man 2

The Third Man