Though Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out has—and most likely always will—remain in the shadow of Reed’s masterpiece The Third Man, Odd Man Out seems to get better with age. One hopes that this newly released Criterion edition will allow cause people to reevaluate this film noir gem, which director Roman Polanski has said several times is superior to The Thin Man.
Based on the novel by F. L. Green, James Mason stars as Johnny McQueen, the recently escaped leader of clandestine organization in Ireland. Though the “organization” to which he belongs is never named, it’s clearly a stand-in for the IRA. He is planning a bank heist to help fund the further activities of their war against the British. After the heist goes wrong, McQueen finds himself stranded from his colleagues, stumbling away from the authorities with a slug in his shoulder and the blood of a dead man on his hands.
Johnny’s men traverse the streets looking for him, as does Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan), the girl who loves him and is trying to organize his escape his escape from the Belfast docks. However, the real meat of the story involves the people with whom Johnny crosses paths as he stumbles through the streets. While most of them have empathy toward him, they fear being fingered as one of his coworkers. As a cabbie who finds him passed out in his cab remarks, “”I’m not for you. I’m not against you. But I can’t afford to get mixed up in this.” He then dumps Johnny in a junkyard, in the rain.
At every turn, Johnny is faced with people looking to profit from their knowledge of his whereabouts—a negative treatment of Irish nationalism. Robert Kraster’s contrast and shadowy photography adds to the tense, noir feel of the film. It’s interesting how the environment changes as Johnny’s situation becomes dire. At the beginning, it’s bright and sunny, reflecting McQueen’s optimism regarding his plan. After he’s shot and wanders the city for help, the sun turns to rain, then fog, then snow—it’s almost as if Johnny’s life is flashing before his eyes, as he fights to stay alive.
James Mason’s performance is stunning. Captivating and magnetic, Johnny acts as though he’s not completely aware of what’s happened to him. Despite his activities in the beginning of the film, there’s something so sympathetic about him, you can’t help but hope he gets the medical attention he needs. At the same time, Odd Man Out poses some interesting questions regarding morality and empathy. For instance, is the painter who wants to find Johnny in order to paint him at the point of death, morally superior to the murderer himself? Interesting.
Carol Reed was at the top of his game in the 1940’s and Odd Man Out deserves a place right next to The Third Man on every film aficionado’s shelf.
Presented in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1, Criterion has produced a beautiful black-and-white transfer. Black levels are strong whites delicate, and sharpness outstanding. I noticed a couple of scratches in the early going, but otherwise, the print is clean and free of dust and debris. Contrast is consistent throughout and shadow detail is strong.
The LPCM mono audio mix has no noticeable defects. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. The musical score and effects come through clearly and concisely, never interfering with dialogue. Solid, if plain.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Templates for the Troubles: John Hill on Odd Man Out (HD, 23:50) Recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2014, cinema scholar John Hill, author of Cinema and Northern Ireland: Film, Culture, and Politics, discusses the political events that inspired Odd Man Out and the portrayal of Northern Ireland in the film, the differences between F.L. Green’s novel and the film, historic events, etc.
- Postwar Poetry: Carol Reed and Odd Man Out (HD, 15:46) Made exclusively for Criterion in 2014 by White Dolphin Films, this documentary looks at the production of the film, the novel, the visual style and more. Includes interviews with directors Guy Hamilton and John Boorman among others.
- Home, James (1972) (HD, 53:45) A television documentary in James Mason introduces us to his hometown of Huddersfield; returning there and noting all the changes. A must-watch for fans of the actor.
- Collaborative Composition: Scoring Odd Man Out (HD, 20:40) Conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2014, film music scholar Jeff Smith, author of The Sounds of Commerce, discusses composer William Alwyn’s legacy and career as well as his unconventional score for Odd Man Out.
- Suspense, Episode 460 (29:23) The 1952 radio adaptation of Odd Man Out starring James Mason and Dan O’Herlihy.
- Leaflet: An illustrated leaflet featuring an essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith.