This week in The Best of Film Noir, I’m taking a look at a film from across the pond called Odd Man Out. This Anglo-Irish film noir stars James Mason and Kathleen Ryan, and was directed by Carol Reed (best known for another classic film noir, The Third Man). Odd Man Out tells the story of an Irish nationalist leader who is wounded during a robbery and his subsequent attempts to evade the police.
The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Hero
Ah, James Mason as the noir hero – can it get any better than that? Granted, I didn’t buy his Irish accent (let alone an Ulster accent) but he still manages an incredible performance as Johnny McQueen, the leader of an unnamed organization who needs money to fund its fight (against whom we are not told, but we can assume the British). Right from the beginning we learn that Johnny has been in hiding since he escaped from prison, and he may not be fit enough to pull off the heist. It’s the typical film noir setup for our noir hero. Of course, things go badly, Johnny is shot and then he is on the run. Mason called this the best performance of his career – now that’s saying something…
The Best of Film Noir – No Femme Fatale
We don’t have a femme fatale in Odd Man Out. What we do have is a glimpse into Johnny’s conflicts, his desire to end the violence he’s seen and been a part of contrasted with his willingness to support his organization. As Johnny spends the hours after the hold-up eluding the police, we are introduced to numerous characters who either sympathize or despise Johnny and what he represents. Even though Johnny has done something very bad (I won’t spoil it and tell you what) we still end up feeling for him and wishing that he would escape unharmed. Odd Man Out has great acting, some incredibly taut scenes and spine-tingling suspense as we journey with Johnny to a tragic end.
The Best of Film Noir – The Supporting Cast
I have to admit, I really liked the supporting cast in Odd Man Out. There were a lot of quirky characters, and a scene with a couple of women who try to help Johnny (before they realize who he is) was both humorous and deftly performed. These characters add to the struggle of what the Irish were enduring and it captures their conflicted feelings about the political situation without being overtly political. It’s a treat to see some of these performances.
The Best of Film Noir – The Cinematography
Odd Man Out was superbly filmed. Along with the dark and gloomy scenes, there are some great angled shots, and a wonderful glimpse into Belfast of a bygone era. Scenes with trams, horse-drawn carriages, the shipyards and more give us a feel for the city. We also see the infamous Albert Clock and the Crown Bar. We are left feeling that the city is cold and foreboding, a dark place indeed.
The Best of Film Noir – Themes
Good movies (and good books) usually have some themes in them. Some see Odd Man Out as having spiritual themes, with Johnny as an almost Christ-like figure, the sacrificial lamb being led to the slaughter. There is doomed romance, and there is certainly conflict that goes deeper than the alluded-to political rumblings. As Steve Eifert says:
thematically, Odd Man Out is about reactions to suffering, fate, and faith.
Even as the tower clock strikes midnight, and the fates of our noir hero and his girl are revealed, we see these themes play out (watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean).
The Best of Film Noir – Notes and Goofs
The framed print hanging on the wall in Father Tom’s foyer, just off the vestry is entitled Ecce Homo by Rembrandt van Rijn. Father Tom must have been quite an art lover. Above his fireplace hung a print of The Angel’s Head from the (London, National Gallery) Virgin of the Rocks, painted 1506-08, by Leonardo da Vinci, not to be confused with (Louvre) Virgin of the Rocks, painted 1482-03, also by Leonardo da Vinci.
When Johnny falls from the car into the road, the first long shot shows him in sunlight near the middle of the road and opposite a gutter. A later shot shows him still in sunlight near the middle of the road but he has now been moved back so he is opposite the intersecting road, so that when he rises he can run straight down that road.
When Johnny’s three friends are fleeing the police, they run into a little square with a grocer’s shop. The shop and the windows above it are lit up. As they run past it, a blind in the left-hand upper window is pulled down. Later, when Dennis tries to draw the police away from Johnny, he runs past the same shop. It can be seen that the blind is now back up again.
Thanks to IMDb for those :).
So get that popcorn popping, grab your soda and hunker down to watch Odd Man Out. Trust me, it’s a real treat.
If you love film noir, you should read This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, a Reader’s Favorite Finalist for mystery.
What a reader says:
Reed Ferguson is the newest cool detective on the bookshelves. Reed is the best kind of detective; he’s one of us. He hasn’t got massive muscles and wields a gun with ease. He takes a licking, but keeps on ticking. He uses good old fashion brains to solve cases. This is a great series that I am sure will garner many fans and hopefully we’ll be reading for years to come.