Noir-vember Day Eleven: Odd Man Out (1947) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Noir-vember Day Eleven: Odd Man Out (1947)

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An endless labyrinth of a city beckons before him as he stumbles through first the rain and then the snow. It's unrelenting and unforgiving, but still a damn sight more kind than the people he meets on his journey.

His name is Johnny McQueen, and he's got one slug in his shoulder. After a heist gone bad, he falls off the car speeding the rest of his crew away and ends up hiding in a deep dark alley, trying desperately to make his way to Father Tom's parish so that he might meet up with his lover and escape town.

That Johnny was no ordinary bank robber and instead a freedom fighter is of the utmost importance. He has a thick Irish accent, and though the city and the cause are never given proper noun names, it just means that they filmmakers decided to leave the Irish Republican Army name tag at home for this particular venture.

James Mason's limited role isn't the most exciting thing to watch.

Since McQueen killed a man during the robbery and is slightly more dangerous than your average criminal on the street, the police begin an intensive series of checkpoints and sweeps. Dizzy, weary, and maybe even losing his grip a wee bit, Johnny stumbles between flummoxed homes and people who are terrified at having such a man in their presence. Anyone who is caught with him is doomed, but anyone who doesn't provide him a minimum of aid is damned as well.

Trying to toe the line between being able to live with themselves and making sure they'll be alive to be able to live with themselves, McQueen finds most of the city's residents to be a panic stricken lot who have a few qualms about sending this bleeding beaten man out into the cold to satisfy their own desire for safety.

Not that I can entirely disagree with them, mind you. While Johnny McQueen spends a good chunk of the movie stumbling around like a zombie and having whiskey poured down his throat as the best cure for bullets, he also seems to be cornering the market on a rather drawn out Christ metaphor. The beginning of the film saw him nearly renouncing the violent ways of the rebellion and yearning for a peaceful solution, which is all good talk right before you shoot a man. His status as a martyr may be a bit flaky outside of the film's assertions, but it's something that the movie underlineds over and over again.

A colorful cast almost saves the film in its last half hour.

It doesn't quite work, and the first ninety minutes of the film just feel loose and painfully detached. Actor James Mason, one of the greats, is playing a character who's half dead, and while it pains me to say this, it looks an awful lot like he's sleepwalking for much of it. The last thirty minutes, while bringing in characters who do more and say more than anything said so far, has McQueen hopping up and quoting Biblical passages just in case the audience wasn't following the thunderously obvious metaphorical steps.

Odd Man Out is directed by Carol Reed, which is both my mother's name and also the name of the man who would go onto direct The Third Man in a couple of years; the latter also directed this movie, but I always like to mention the former because it makes me smile every time I think of it.

Reed's visual language is present here, and, though the movie often times feels like a slog, it's always interesting to watch. There are shadows growing against the wall, and Reed's use of precipitation as a mood enhancer, while a bit hokey, works in spades.

However, in spite of the atmosphere, I wouldn't go so far to say it's very entertaining. Odd Man Out feels like a film to be studied, as it contains thoughts about how the British regarded Northern Ireland in the 1940's and delves into the amount of sympathy they were willing to extend a Republican army that they would spend the rest of the century trying to eliminate.

It's an interesting time capsule and maybe a good experiment, but as a whole it behaves in a lot of ways McQueen does, endlessly stumbling and muttering and hoping someone will make some sense of it and take it home.

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Posted by Danny

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