It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Movie Challenge …… Odd Man Out (1947)
Time to once again get a look at a film that has passed me by. For this month’s challenge, Kristina of Speakeasy and now a veteran of the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood assigned to me a classic British film from director Carol Reed and starring the dynamic James Mason. For the past challenges presented to me from Kristina click here.
“He belongs to the law now.”
Odd Man Out begins and ends in Northern Ireland where Mason is a wanted convict who has escaped from a lengthy prison stint. He’s assembled a gang of thieves to pull off a bank heist. The woman in his life played by Kathleen Ryan would like Mason to let the others carry out the theft as he’s to well known with a price on his head. He’s also a member of the IRA which adds to the dynamics of the plot and how it will unfold.
The robbery almost goes off according to plan until Mason winds up in a struggle with an armed officer resulting in both men being shot. The officer is dead and Mason is hit in the arm. He barely makes it to the get away car as it moves into traffic. Not quite all the way into the car he tumbles out at a high speed. Briefly looking back the gang drives on leaving him for what is surely recapture or death.
This sets up the basis for the bulk of the film. Mason is often delirious and hallucinating as he stumbles through the shadows in an attempt to find help and stay out of sight from the police who have descended upon the alleys and the apartments of Mason’s acquaintances to whom he may turn to for help.
The wounded Mason is a well known face and everyone he comes into contact with know that if they shield him from the police led by Denis O’Day they stand to be arrested as an accomplice. On the other hand they don’t want the wrath of the IRA to look upon them in a negative way either so rather than outright give him up to the police they push him along from their doorsteps. These include a pair of sympathetic ladies, a coachmen and a young couple.
Finally the dizzy Mason falls into the clutches of a greedy lowlife named Shell who let’s the local minister W.G. Fay know that he has him and by extension Mason’s girl Ryan. It’s money he’s after and he’ll deliver the wounded Mason to the highest bidder. Enter crazed Robert Newton as an alcoholic painter who wants to capture the dead eyes of doomed Mason on a canvas to go with the others that litter his loft including an eerie portrait of Shell himself.
I’ll stop here on the plot points as I rarely divulge the outcome of a title but I must say this one really grabbed me and left me somewhat stunned. That’s a welcome feeling when you’ve seen as many titles as I have over the years.
The strength of this release from Rank studios lies in two directions. First off the characters in the film are all clear and honest in their motives. Good or bad. The dialogue matches their characterizations and the actors come off solidly. Mason’s role is somewhat grounded as he’s trapped in an injured body but it comes alive through his hallucinations that are ingeniously put together by director Reed. Which leads us to Reed himself. A real pro behind the camera with a resume to prove it. The Third Man and Oliver stand out.
Special mention must go to the other leads. Ryan as Mason’s girl is heart breaking at times. O’Day as the calm officer knowing what must come works fine. Robert Newton is suitably crazy as one might expect and F. J. McCormick as the opportunistic blackmailer Shell is outstanding in a flashy scene stealing role.
Sadly this turned out to be his final film as he died the same year of this film’s release. Fay as the minister can`t help but evoke similarities to the likes of Barry Fitzgerald or Henry Travers.
At just under two hours I found the movie a little slow on the outset but by the time the one hour mark hit I was hooked to see just where Mason`s lost soul was going to lead me. I just had no idea how hard it was actually going to hit me down the stretch.
As much as I like James Mason I have no idea why I had never tuned in to this early effort from his lengthy career. Perhaps that alone is the reason. When I began to devour films, Mason was still alive and in his seventies. I had seen him as Watson opposite Plummer`s Sherlock or in The Verdict opposite Paul Newman. As Nemo on Disney`s weekly Sunday night hour but for some reason associated his younger roles as romantic and while growing up had no desire to see him in those films. I much preferred seeing him in Journey to the Center of the Earth.
So it finally took a challenge from Kristina to see Mason in this Carol Reed classic. Now head over to Speakeasy where Kristina was pushed to watch an actor I know she really likes and he`s from Canada! Not only that but like James Mason there`s also an actor with an amazing voice involved. So amazing that he made his film debut in the thirties without ever appearing on screen till the fade out despite having his voice as the main character throughout.