Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Odd Man Out (1947)

Carol Reed's Odd Man Out is the first in a trifecta followed by The Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949) (the last is also available on Instant Play). But the closest comparison I can make to Odd Man Out is John Ford's The Informer (1935) (not on Instant Play, but worth putting on your Queue)--although the Ford picture has an inverse plot: While Ford's Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen in a justly deserved Oscar-winning performance; Ford also won for Best Director) is forced to play Judas as he wanders drunkenly through his own Nighttown, all fog and sold souls, Reed's film follows an IRA-styled nationalist (James Mason) who wanders what must be Belfast after being shot during a robbery. However, even though Mason's Johnny McQueen is a staunch martyr, he too falls into the same surreal mist as McLaglen's, slowly dying in a city that also eventually turns its face from him.

Another strange echo of Odd Man Out can be heard in Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (1995), with Johnny Depp's wounded accountant, Bill Blake, making his way through a different wilderness, absurd and indistinct in its meaning. Reed's picture, though, works not so much as existential philosophy ("not that there's anything wrong with that") as it does a eulogy for Johnny McQueen's efforts to remain a code hero--the man of his word surrounded by liars. It's a weird noir--although that seems a bit redundant: all noirs are weird. Still, Odd Man Out wants to open not only Johnny McQueen's soul but Northern Ireland's wounds, viewed as stigmata, signs of loss and promise. I'll leave it up to you to decide if we're left more with loss or promise--but don't expect a neat answer from Reed; as in his following two pictures, Odd Man Out observes closely, but in the end keeps its own counsel.

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