Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (1947) has two primary assets: a leading role for James Mason and stunning black-and-white cinematography. It’s a thematically interesting noir with a strong opening and powerful themes, but it’s also structurally and tonally scattered; I left with a mixed reaction.
Mason stars as Johnny McQueen, the experienced leader of an IRA-like political group in Ireland. After several months in hiding, McQueen is ordered to lead a bank heist, which will supply his group with much-needed funds to continue their operations. As they’re preparing for the job, his friend Dennis (Robert Beatty) and unrequited old flame Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan) try to talk him out of it, concerned that his heart is no longer in it—but McQueen sees it as his duty, and refuses to step aside. When the heist inevitably goes sideways, McQueen is both identified and injured, becoming a fugitive and the city’s most wanted man. As he struggles to elude the police, his encounters entangle many of the city’s citizens in tricky ethical decisions, informed by their sympathy for or against the group’s political cause, their genuine decency, their greed, their indifference, or their cagey self-interest.
Odd Man Out starts out like gangbusters, a heist movie set against a politically charged backdrop, and it builds excitingly. Mason assays his usual suave confidence, but with just the right edge of nervous reluctance and remorse underneath, making him both charismatic and accessible as his ordeal escalates. These strengths made it easy to stay invested for the first third of the film, especially with the cinematography’s stark contrasts and precise, artful mise-en-scène to sustain the eye. But soon the manhunt mechanics of the plot lose their energy, and the later scenes give over to explorations of guilt, loyalty, and right or wrong, as McQueen’s flight from the authorities presents as either a challenge or an opportunity to those who cross his path. While still interesting and attractive, its becomes somewhat less gripping as it goes, as certain over-clocked scenes feel like digressions and keep the tortured protagonist too long offscreen. A worthy, eye-catching film, to be sure, but this one ultimately fell short for me.