Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out ★★★★½

Noirvember 2020

Two years before Harry Lime was wandering the streets of postwar Vienna in ‘The Third Man’, Carol Reed directed a movie in an altogether different city. Although it’s never actually namedropped in dialogue, Belfast provided the locations for ‘Odd Man Out’, a 1947 film noir starring James Mason as Irish Republican Johnny McQueen. And when it comes to shadowy doorways and dimlit alleys, the Northern Irish capital provides just as many dark, brooding and strangely poetic shots that help to capture the mood of a European city in the years following the Second World War. 

Yet it could be argued that ‘Odd Man Out’ offers a much more challenging and thought-provoking narrative than ‘The Third Man’; it’s the tale of a failed robbery by a group of IRA confederates and the subsequent journey of their leader, who attempts to evade the authorities and make it back safely. As such, it’s structurally quite different, with one huge event taking place early on, and the remainder of the film playing out as a series of encounters. As McQueen travels the city streets, he comes into contact with various civilians, all of whom are aware of the potential consequences of getting involved in such “business”. 

This theme is echoed in the film’s opening scroll, in which we are told that the story “is not concerned with the struggle between the law and an illegal organisation, but only with the conflict in the hearts of the people when they become unexpectedly involved”. The ordinary folk who encounter the gunman face a difficult decision when it comes to weighing up Johnny’s deep-rooted beliefs with the criminal acts he has committed in the name of said beliefs. It’s a brave move, and one that may have hit rather close to home for audience members in Britain and, especially, Ireland. 

Similarly, Reed depicts the humanity of the character surprisingly well, avoiding the obvious portrayal of McQueen being a monstrous killer. Mason captures the compassion and guilt that he feels as he slowly trudges towards his inevitable death. His persistent concern for the welfare of the man he unknowingly killed shows how much he regrets his actions. It all boils up to an explosive and heart-wrenching finale on the snowy streets of Belfast. 

Ooh, and bonus points for William Hartnell, love that guy!

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