A Letter To Elia
Martin Scorsese narrates and co-directs a documentary on the late filmmaker Elia Kazan
On Film4: 20 Apr 2:50AM
A wounded IRA man tries to elude the British forces and return to his Belfast safe house. Crime drama starring James Mason and Kathleen Ryan and directed by Carol Reed
Along with The Third Man and A Man Alone, Odd Man Out is part of Carol Reed's loose 'Man' trilogy. Since he also made The Running Man - the Laurence Harvey thriller, not the Arnie Stephen King movie - and adapted Graham Greene's Our Man In Havana, one could argue that Ollie's uncle Carol actually composed a 'Man' quintet. However, while these other movies have nothing but a noun in common, the three pictures Reed produced between 1947 and 1953 share distinct similarities despite being set at different times in different countries.
While A Man Alone takes place in a Berlin sandwiched between the Second World War and East-West segregation and The Third Man's set amidst the rubble of war-torn Vienna, Odd Man Out occurs against the backdrop of the Irish Troubles. Johnny McQueen (Mason) is the leader of an IRA cell who hopes a bank robbery will provide him and his allies with enough money to mount a fresh front against the British. Despite Johnny's best-laid plans, he can't make the stick-up stick and he winds up injured on the wrong side of Belfast with the British army bent on capturing him and his hopes of returning to his safe house resting on his guile and his girl, Kathleen (Ryan).
Set at a time when the IRA was an irrelevancy rather than an organised fighting force, Odd Man Out is free of the controversy that dogged The Devil's Own, Patriot Games, A Prayer For The Dying and the countless other movies that either saw sport in the Irish tragedy or choose to insultingly simplify the situation. Indeed, rather than a shoddy terrorist drama, Reed's film is an example of British film noir at its very best.
Although it hasn't been forgotten like the miserably underrated A Man Alone, you can't help but feel that Odd Man Out might enjoy a more illustrious reputation had its director not followed it up with a film the quality of The Third Man. But while it might not have Orson Welles taking a ride on a big wheel and talking about cuckoo clocks, Reed's earlier film does feature a stand-out performance from James Mason who elicits great sympathy despite playing a terrorist and parades an Irish accent that's a great improvement on the ridiculous brogues usually sported by English actors. The director also draws great supporting turns from Kathleen Ryan, Cyril ' father of Sinead' Cusack, Robert Newton and future Dr Who William Hartnell.
In Reed's talented hands, Belfast also gives a good account of itself. Working with his DP of choice Robert Krasker (who'd win an Oscar for his work on The Third Man), the battered city is transformed into a foreboding labyrinth populated by characters so shady they'd be quite at home in a Chandler tome. Yes, here as in his other 'Man' films, Carol Reed takes a location and carves a character out of it. It's a remarkable feat made more extraordinary still by the fact he shot most of the film far away from the Emerald Isle on English soundstages.
Reed's efforts are such that Odd Man Out should be regarded as one of the finest British films of the post-war period. But when the BFI drew up its Top 100 list, the picture was strangely absent. More intriguing still was the institute's decision to give first place to The Third Man. Not that the 1949 classic doesn't deserve such high praise. Watch the films together, though, and you might agree that the supposed gulf in quality is anything but chasmic.
The Third Man might be 'The Man', but Odd Man Out is far from child's play - rather it's amongst British cinema's finest crime dramas.
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