Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 8, 2015)
Not long before he directed the legendary Third Man, Carol Reed created another film in the thriller vein. 1947’s Odd Man Out takes us to Northern Ireland and introduces us to Johnny McQueen (James Mason), the leader of an underground resistance organization.
An escapee from prison, Johnny holes up at the house of his girlfriend Kathleen Sullivan (Kathleen Ryan) and plots a robbery with his cohorts. This crime intends to raise funds for their cause.
These activities don’t go as planned, as Johnny gets wounded and finds himself adrift in the city. We follow Johnny’s attempts to get back to safety and complications that arise along the way.
While the justified fame of Third Man will bring viewers to Odd Man Out, I’m not sure how many will find satisfaction with it. No, I don’t expect the same level of greatness from Out, but even with lowered expectations, it seems like a moderate disappointment.
Part of the problem comes from the cast – or the lead, at least. Even if we ignore Mason’s inability to pull off a convincing Irish accent, he just seems wrong for the part. Always suave and genteel, Mason doesn’t make a lot of sense as the rough and tumble Johnny. He plays the wounded man fairly well but still seems like an odd choice.
Not that Mason ends up mattering that much, as Johnny does less and less as the movie progresses. Some of that stems from Johnny’s wounds; with serious injuries, the character nears death and can’t muster much action.
However, Mason largely becomes less of a factor because of the movie’s construction. On the surface, Out sounds like it’ll be a taut cat and mouse fugitive movie, but the opposite occurs. Instead, it acts more as allegory that uses Johnny as a symbol, someone who represents the desires and whims of others.
Because of this, Out comes with a less than precise narrative. Our ostensible lead goes missing for long periods of time, as instead the movie focuses on a variety of supporting roles and their reactions to Johnny and his situation.
This trend becomes more dominant as Out progresses. The first act remains largely plot-driven but after that, it tumbles into the proverbial rabbit hole.
If that trend works for you, it seems likely you’ll get a lot out of the film. As for me, I can’t quite embrace the wobbly narrative as much as I’d like. While I think Out musters some interesting moments, the inherent looseness of the tale leaves me somewhat detached from the proceedings.
My main problem revolves around the length of time Out abandons its plot. It throws out narrative elements in bits and pieces but strays to focus on its supporting characters, a crew that gets quirkier and quirkier as the movie goes.
Others love this, but it doesn’t do much for me, largely because of the aforementioned escalating level of strangeness. The movie’s second half spends an awful lot of time with greedy homeless man Shell (FJ McCormick) and perverse artist Lukey (Robert Newton), characters who tend to be less than compelling. We also get a lot of Kathleen, a rather milquetoast personality.
Again, I understand that Out wants to use the character to explore various sentiments, but I don’t think it satisfies much of the time. The structure simply becomes too frustrating, as the tale meanders to the point where I just want it to finally conclude.
On the positive side, Reed brings a terrific visual sensibility. In this age of relentless shakycam, it feels revelatory to see a movie that boasts such meticulous composition, and the imagery always seems vivid and impressive.
I just never find myself as engaged in the story as a feel I should be, though. With a mix of good scenes and that stunning cinematography, Odd Man Out boasts quality components, but that sluggish narrative keeps me at arm’s length.