James Mason and Kathleen Ryan in Odd Man Out (1947)


(director: Carol Reed; screenwriters: F.L. Green/ Robert Cedric Sherriff/from book by Green; cinematographer: Robert Krasker; editor: Fergus McDonell; cast: James Mason (Johnny McQueen ), Robert Newton (Lukey), Robert Beatty (Dennis), Kathleen Ryan (Kathleen), Cyril Cusack (Pat), Dan O’Herlihy (Nolan), F.J. McCormick (Shell), Roy Irving (Murphy), W.G. Fay (Father Tom), Elwyn Brook-Jones (Tober),Maureen Delaney (Teresa), Kitty Kirwan (Granny), Denis O’Day (Head Constable); Runtime: 111; J. Arthur Rank; 1947-UK)


“This is Carol Reed’s breakthrough film as a director…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is Carol Reed’s breakthrough film as a director after a long and undistinguished film career until that point. He followed this success with two other classics in British cinema — “The Fallen Idol” and, his greatest film, “The Third Man.” The subject matter of the “Odd Man Out” is about a political fugitive on the run who has just robbed a mill in Belfast and murdered the cashier, which ironically happens after he comes to believe violence may not be the best solution for change…though he still believes fervently in supporting the IRA cause financially. James Mason plays Johnny McQueen, the chief of an Irish organization, though not mentioned by name but obviously is the IRA. He has just committed the robbery after escaping from prison while serving a long sentence for gun-running. He was cooped up for the last 6 months in Kathleen’s (Ryan) family house, where she lives with her colorful granny. She is madly in love with him and wants him to choose her instead of the organization.

Warning: spoilers to follow.

The robbery is botched when Johnny blacks out and can’t get into the getaway car in time. A cashier with a gun pointed at him tries to stop him, but gets fatally shot as they wrestle to the ground. Johnny is severely wounded in the shoulder and when the cowardly driver Pat (Cusack) refuses to stop and the others can’t help him into the car, letting him drop to the gutter; he, therefore, must go through an alley to escape the police and winds up lying in a delirious state in an air raid shelter.

Johnny’s close comrade Dennis (Beatty) goes searching for him hoping to get him out of the area, which the police have sealed off. Meanwhile two others in the robbery, Pat and Murphy (Irving), get drunk in the house of an informer (Delaney) and tell her everything, easily betraying their comrades. She turns them over to the inspector (O’Day), whose men shoots them as they try to escape from her house. She also tells the inspector about Kathleen and Dennis, making a deal with him to look the other way at her black market schemes.

Wandering the streets in a delirious state and weakened by a loss of blood, Johnny is taken in by two helpful women pedestrians who patch him up and turn him loose when they discover who he is. They are not interested in the reward or in helping him escape, or in turning him over to the police…they are just trying to figure out what to do that is right. Placed in a cab by a reveler out in the driving snow, the cabby drops him off at a junkyard where he is spotted by a caged bird fancier, Shell (McCormick). He figures he can sell him to Father Tom (Fay) and thereby make some cash to help him out in his destitute state. Kathleen has also gone to Father Tom for help and he tells her he will try to save Johnny’s soul and get him to surrender if he is brought to him…that there is nothing else that he can do for him. But her plans are to smuggle him out of the country by boat and go with him far away from the problems here, and to try to start a new life.

One of Shell’s acquaintances is a drunken, homosexual artist, Lukey (Newton), who is a struggling painter using Shell as a model for a saint. When he hears about Johnny from him he insists that he brings the fugitive to him, as he wants to look into his desperate eyes and capture his idealistic soul on canvas. Shell’s other pal he lives with is Tober (Brook-Jones), someone who could have been a doctor if he didn’t screw up. He wants to mend Johnny so that he can prove his medical skills on the wounded man and does not care that he would only be healing Johnny so that the fugitive could be executed. Both wish only to use Johnny to prove that they can function with skill in their fields, where they are currently viewed as failures. They have no other human interest in him which even Johnny in his dying state can see, as he stumbles away from them. In a religiously charged scene, Johnny quotes from I Corinthians 8 — which is the verse that says man is nothing without charity. That only help given without expecting something from it, is truly a Christian charity.

The low-life Shell tries to bring the still weakened Johnny to Father Tom and thereby to freedom — his price for doing that good deed is a promise of approval from Father Tom and perhaps some money and acceptance for the doleful life he leads. But Johnny collapses before he reaches the church. When Kathleen spots him in the square she tries to steer him to the waterfront, but it is too late as the police close in and fire at them. She dies for what she believes is something greater than faith or anything else in life, her love of Johnny.

The hope is that the Republic will be a true one, based on the peace and love of all the people of Ireland, once it recognizes that it is the people themselves who have to unite as one and not be fooled by groups that are only giving them a false ideal.

Londoner Reed has shot a mostly pro-British film, that is stronger on being a suspenseful art film than an accurately political one. The dark snowy streets of Belfast and the brooding mood of Mason, made this film look much like a noir feature. Mason seems like he is in the middle of a nightmare, traveling through an ugly urban landscape where there is no escape. It is preachy in spots, trying to show many different sides to the struggle, where characters along the way seem more like symbols than real flesh-and-blood. There are bar patrons spouting the cause while heartily drinking ale, rational British policemen acting with restraint, ordinary citizens not wanting to get involved in the violence or looking to turn the fugitive in for the reward money, and there are decent IRA family members all caught up in the turbulent times — each trying to figure a way out of the mess the country is in.

But the film was very weak in setting up the political arguments that caused the civil war in the first place, as no rational person will disagree with the film’s anti-violent stance. But there is a lot going on that the film left uncovered from the point of view of what the revolutionaries are protesting. I found the film, nevertheless, absorbing, especially as a thriller more than anything else–a good old ‘cops and robbers’ tale.