Film Noir File: Carol Reed’s ‘Odd Man Out’ is a great Irish drama and a great thriller

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week

Odd Man Out” (U.K.; 1947, Carol Reed). Tuesday, March 17, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Carol Reed’s 1947 British thriller “Odd Man Out” is one of the great suspense dramas and one of the great film noirs. It’s an Irish odyssey that wrings every drop of tension from its subject. It’s also a story of love and death that plunges you into deepest night, and cracks your heart as you watch it.

James Mason always considered Johnny his best performance,

James Mason always considered Johnny his best performance,

The film revolves around Irish revolutionary Johnny McQueen, played by James Mason in a near-perfect performance.

As the film follows its dying protagonist – shot during an I. R. A. bank robbery and desperately trying to make his way to safety while being hunted by both the police and his friends – it creates an indelible portrait of a city at night, populated by a gallery of unforgettable characters.

That city is Belfast, though it’s never named as such. It’s a metropolis torn into bloody fragments, yet also seething with humanity, humor, embattled faith, bloody conflict and mad poetry. The city is stunningly photographed in rich blacks and ivory whites by cinematographer Robert Krasker in nearly the same palette he and Reed later used for 1949’s “The Third Man.”

Mason’s Johnny is not a naturally violent outlaw, but an idealist who is simply trying to hold onto life.  The wounded IRA man runs a gauntlet of terror, escaping from the bank where he was shot, wandering from place to place, from homes to bars to city scrapheaps, constantly a fugitive, sometimes helped, often recognized, safe only for fleeting moments.

Kathleen Ryan plays Johnny’s love interest.

Kathleen Ryan plays Johnny’s love interest.

Johnny’s main contacts are his lover Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan), also loved by the stern police inspector (Denis O’Dea) on Johnny’s trail; the elderly, frail, art fancier Father Tom (W. G. Fay); and an opportunistic little man named Shell (F. J. McCormick), who lives in an attic with two fellow eccentrics – Robert Newton as the alcoholic painter Lukey, and Elwyn Brooke-Jones as the failed medical student Tober.

Johnny’s suffering keeps bringing out the best and the worst in the people he encounters. The first act of “Odd Man Out” is a near-Hitchcockian masterpiece of suspense. The final act hits a mixture of irony, poignancy and terror that few films reach.

Mason always considered Johnny his best performance, and it may well be – though other Mason performances are in the same class: Humbert Humbert in “Lolita,” Norman Maine in “A Star is Born,” Ed Avery in “Bigger Than Life,” Trigorin in “The Sea Gull” and Sir Randolph in “The Shooting Party.” McCormick’s Shell is a magnificent portrayal as well – beautifully restrained and sly, full of fallibility, weakness and a near-demonic will. You’ll never forget Shell even if you didn’t know or won’t remember this superb actor’s name.

The script, a gem, was adapted from his bestselling novel by F. L. Green, who was born in England and died (in 1949) in Belfast, and playwright R. C. Sherriff (“Journey’s End”). It was produced and directed by Reed, then at the peak of his powers as a filmmaker.

If you’ve never seen “Odd Man Out,” try to catch it this time: a great Irish drama and film noir, a great Carol Reed film and James Mason performance, and a great story of suffering and redemption, while running and hiding in Belfast, city of night.

Saturday, March 14

Killer's Kiss poster7 a.m. (4 a.m.): “Killer’s Kiss” (Stanley Kubrick, 1955).

8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.): “The Big Clock” (John Farrow, 1948).

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Dead End” (William Wyler, 1937).

2 a.m. (11 p.m.). “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” (Charles B. Pierce, 1976). Based on fact, this indie low-budget movie about a Texas serial killer influenced a host of less factual slasher movies later on. With Ben Johnson and Dawn Wells.

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “In Cold Blood” (Richard Brooks, 1967).

Monday, March 16

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Fury” (Fritz Lang, 1936).

11:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.): “Saboteur” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1942).

1:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m.) “The Wages of Fear” (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953). One of the greatest of all suspense films, this legendary French shocker is Clouzot’s nerve-rending account of four expatriate drivers trying to escape a horrible little South American backwater by driving two truckloads of nitroglycerin to a burning oil field over dangerous mountain roads.

A masterpiece of dark cynicism and blazing suspense, it’s even tenser and scarier than Clouzot’s more famous thriller “Diabolique.” The film boasts an incredible script (by Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi, from Georges Arnaud’s novel), amazing camerawork and razor-sharp editing. There’s also a fantastic cast: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter Van Eyck, Folco Lulli, Daniel Gelin and the director’s long-suffering wife, Vera Clouzot.

“You sit there, waiting for the theater to explode!” claimed the 1954 American theater ads, and they weren’t far wrong. William Friedkin’s 1977 remake “Sorcerer,” with Roy Scheider, though a fine, underrated film, pales by comparison. (French, with subtitles.)

Also available from Criterion in DVD and Blu-ray with a documentary as well as interviews with Montand and others.

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The Noir File: Six gems by the all-time master of suspense

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s weekly guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All the movies below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Six by Alfred Hitchcock (1941-59) Friday, Nov. 23, 6:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. (3:30 a.m.- 3 p.m.)

Hitchcock was the movies’ all-time master of suspense – the supreme chronicler of wrong men on the run and notorious ladies in distress, of psychos and vertigo, of scenic spy chases and excruciating murder scenes, of shadows and strangers and suspicion, and most of all, of expert suspense movies, pulse-pounding pictures that got you on the hook fast, and kept you there until the last minute.

He was also the master of film noir, as this six film mini-marathon of movies proves. Dating from the heyday of both Hitchcock and classic noir (1941 to 1959), they’re films that you may have seen before, but that are always welcome for a fresh viewing. Hitchcock was one of the most punctilious, painstaking and brilliantly inventive of all major movie artists and that’s why you can see these pictures over and over. While you’re in the mood, you’ll probably also want to catch the opening of the new movie “Hitchcock,” Sacha Gervasi’s bio-thriller about the making of “Psycho,” with Anthony Hopkins as the master of suspense himself.

Friday, Nov. 23, 6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “The Dick Cavett Show” (1972). Cavett interviews Hitch, for the release of “Frenzy.”

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Under Capricorn” (1949). In this somewhat stiff Australian-set period romance, Ingrid Bergman plays a reclusive alcoholic torn between bad-tempered husband Joseph Cotten and charming visitor Michael Wilding – with Margaret Leighton a scene-stealer as the obsessive housekeeper. One of the director’s rare commercial flops, “Under Capricorn” is still notable for its complex, long-take moving camera scenes (like the ones in “Rope”).

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951).

Vera Miles and Henry Fonda star in “The Wrong Man,” which is based on a true incident.

11:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.) “The Wrong Man” (1956). Hitchcock takes a real-life episode –the arrest and conviction of New York musician Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) for a robbery he didn’t commit – and squeezes out as much suspense as he does from his fictional thrillers. Co-scripted by playwright Maxwell Anderson; with Vera Miles and Harold J. Stone.

1:45 a.m. (10:45 a.m.): “North by Northwest” (1959). One of Hitchcock’s two great spy-chase thrillers (the other is “The 39 Steps”), “North by Northwest” follows a suave but beleaguered Manhattan advertising executive (Cary Grant), who’s mistaken for a spy who doesn’t exist, charged with a murder he didn’t commit, pursued by bad guys (James Mason, Martin Landau) whose machinations bewilder him. Oh and he’s involved with a blonde beauty (Eva Marie Saint) who may want him dead. And then there’s that pesky crop-dusting plane “dustin’ where there ain’t no crops.” One of the best, most typical and most beautifully made Hitchcocks. Ingeniously scripted by Ernest Lehman.

4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.): “Suspicion” (1941).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Dial M for Murder” (1954).

Sunday, Nov. 18

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz).

Tuesday, Nov. 20

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Bonjour Tristesse” (1957, Otto Preminger). Smooth as silk and cool as champagne, Preminger’s adaptation of the young French writer Françoise Sagan’s cynical novel, focuses on a brainy young belle (Jean Seberg), whose intense relationship with her playboy father (David Niven) is disrupted by his perceptive fiancée (Deborah Kerr) – a clash that leads to darker currents and conflicts. Seberg’s chilly performance here inspired her role several years later in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless.”

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