(United Kingdom, 1947, 116 minutes, b&w, 16mm)
following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers
Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies
at Pennsylvania State University:
ODD MAN OUT begins as a caper film. In a hushed back bedroom, "Johnny McQueen" (James Mason) tells his confederates, "Pat" (Cyril Cusack), "Nolan" (Dan O'Herlihy), and "Murphy" (Roy Irving) about the robbery they are about to execute in the name of the IRA. Even now, in the last moments during which he will partake of anything like society's congeniality , the last time he will not have reason to fear at least one face within his view, even now, Johnny is of some other world whose surface we cannot pierce. Ascetic yet tough, reserved yet strangely expressive, he is a less a gang leader than a minor messiah, his influence filling the tiny room to its very sills with a sense of his undeniability and indestructibility.
But only for a moment. For the instant Johnny leaves the tiny bedroom that has been his hideout since breaking jail six months before, his life is forfeit. If he has been seen in an almost religious light by his cronies and by "Kathleen Sullivan" (Kathleen Ryan), the IRA girl who so stoicly adores him, now, he will get his chance to be saint of violence, a martyr to the Organization. A spirit almost as otherworldly as himself, "The Inspector" (Dennis O'Dea), thin-lipped and deadly, will pursue Johnny through snow-swept alleys and down the rat holes of the poor and the petty criminals. Johnny will know danger and betrayal, and finally, deliverance, in Belfast.
The winter of 1946-1947 was one of the worst in British memory. Streets in London, Portsmouth, Coventry, and a dozen other cities were still Blitz-pitted, and whole blocks remained broken, frozen, and abandoned. Food was still rationed in what was already being called "the Age of Austerity" and the nation still ached dully with the too-intimate recollection of their thousands of dead and missing countrymen. Despondency and poverty stamped their feet and milled about, trying to keep warm. And yet Britons seemed to aspire toward something more hopeful, something unseen, a way of making higher meaning of what was already seeming less like history and more like a nightmare no one could really believe. To such a populace, frigid of cheer, ODD MAN OUT provided an allegory based on a heretofore unthinkable proposition: that an IRA man might as easily be the vessel of godliness as the next person in the food queue.
ODD MAN OUT sparkles with set-pieces and characters as striking as any in British cinema. Its cinematography, by Robert Krasker, rivals that of THE THIRD MAN, and the set designs by Ralph Brinton make Johnny's progress downward an expressionistic Calvary. ODD MAN OUT is festooned with gargoyles. There is "Lukey," the frenetic, jittery artist (Robert Newton), a man who sees faces in the fire, a man whose weird ecstasy seems to drain Johnny's slim reserves of strength. His "studio" looks like nothing so much as the inside of his head. Then there is Johnny's dipsomaniacal underworld guide, the little birdman "Shell" (F.J. McCormick), and the wary publican, "Fencie" (William Hartnell). There are the sisters "Rosie" and "Maudie" (Fay Compton and Beryl Measor), women who cannot decide if they are hostages or cutthroats, and "Father Tom" (W.G. Fay) who offers Kathleen and Johnny the scant comfort of the Church, while outside, the noose tightens.
Kathleen, beautiful and sturdy, presents a resolute face to the dark destiny that threatens at every moment to sweep over the couple. As she tries to deny the doom that comes padding after them, Kathleen and Johnny's courses fuse inextricably. Somewhere along the bloody way, she has decided to share Johnny's life, whatever there is left of it, and by this desperate gesture, perhaps, to turn the glowering face of fate away from the harried couple. And through it all, the clock ticks.
When the film appeared, some critics grumbled that the tangled politics of Republicanism the Easter Rising, and the long internal exile of the IRA, were all blithely ignored by ODD MAN OUT. Literalists, they couldn't see themselves in the elemental conflict between the bleeding Johnny and the deadly, spectral policeman. In that hopeless pursuit, they could not see that they themselves were implicated, not as political adherents or adversaries, but as human beings. Even the artist Lukey, in the throes of his own attempt to escape from reality, knows better. "I understand what I see in him," says Lukey, "The truth about us all." In the sensual, gaunt, Christ-haunted face of James Mason's Johnny, all of us live, silent but unquiet, seeking but rarely finding. Like him, we are wounded and running, but grander for the struggle.
— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University
For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.