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Odd Man Out (Blu-ray)

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Genre: Drama / Parental Guidance / Director: Carol Reed / Actors: James Mason, Kathleen Ryan, Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, William Hartnell ... / Blu-ray released 2012-06-18 at Network / Features of the Blu-ray: PAL

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    1 Review
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      02.08.2012 09:55
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      A British classic on Blu-ray

      This Network Blu-ray costs £14 on amazon.

      Odd Man Out (1947) is a classic British thriller directed by Carol Reed - along with The Third Man, made a few years later, it is the reason people regard Reed as an important director. It allowed James Mason to break away from the Gainsborough melodramas he'd been making and go off to Hollywood to become a proper star, and it features a remarkably good supporting cast. Both visually and in terms of the storyline, it is pure film noir, the only great film noir made outside Hollywood, apart from The Third Man.

      In Belfast, an unnamed paramilitary organisation robs a payroll. The leader, Johnny, kills a guard and is shot in the shoulder, falling from the getaway car. His comrades try desperately to find him, as does his girlfriend, Kathleen. But the police are also on the wounded man's trail, and it can only be a matter of time until they get him...

      It's safe to say that no British made film made these days would offer a member of the IRA as a tragic hero (the organisation is never named, but it's obviously the IRA). What Johnny and his friends do is never really condemned, and he's shown to want not to be violent. He's visibly shocked when he realises he's killed a man. And the film is very much tied to Belfast as a location, and makes much of the way many of the natives see the police as an occupying force. Some of the most interesting moments occur when children taunt the police, or re-enact the robbery. It's obvious who their heroes are.

      The Third Man, made a few years later, covers a lot of the same ground. But there, while we can understand the frustration of the Viennese population at the continued presence of Allied soldiers, the film never expects us to condone what Harry Lime and his criminal friends are doing. Odd Man Out is a bit less nuanced. It offers the idea that Irish nationalism isn't such a bad goal, but apart from one pub landlord who worries that Johnny's friends may come after him if he doesn't help, we never get an alternative viewpoint. Perhaps it's just not possible, post 1970s, to accept an uncritical view of the IRA, at least if you're British.

      Anyway, this doesn't really affect the film, it's just something that feels very strange today. The more we see of Johnny the more we realise how unlikely it is that he'll achieve any kind of salvation - unlike most film heroes who take a bullet to the shoulder, he is seriously hurt and drifts in and out of lucidity. His friends and Kathleen race around frantically trying to find him, but there's a growing sense of hopelessness as the police net closes in on the wounded man. Johnnie himself becomes something of a cypher, a figure onto whom the hopes and dreams and fears and greed of others is projected.

      He is played extremely well by James Mason, reigning in all his usual vocal mannerism and delivering a great performance as a conscience stricken criminal gradually slipping away from the world. I'd forgotten how little he's actually in it, though, and the point of the film is more the supporting characters. Kathleen has dreams of getting Johnny out of Belfast by sea, and Kathleen Ryan is good in the part, even if the doomed romance aspects of it seem a little beyond her.

      Many of the supporting cast were Irish actors, unknown in Britain at the time. Cyril Cusack, as one of the gang, went on to bigger things. The only minor characters I recognise from other things are the English William Hartnell (later the first Doctor Who) as a barman, and the Canadian Robert Beatty as another gang member (he's probably best known as the fake General in Where Eagles Dare). W G Fay is especially good as the kindly Father Tom, but really, all the cast are pitch perfect (even if not all the accents are).

      The story takes a bit of a gamble when Johnny falls into the hands of a trio of less realistic characters. The dowdy little tramp-like Shell, the cynical failed doctor Tober, and the larger than life artist Lukey seem to have wandered in from another genre entirely, maybe a Becket or Pinter play. F J McCormick is great as Shell, but Robert Newton goes way overboard as Lukey, and pretty much steals the film's last half hour from everyone else in sight. (In Pinter's Old Times, a character keeps going on about how brilliant Robert Newton is in Odd Man Out).

      The film is extremely well made. The locations are used brilliantly, with the narrow cobbled alleyways made to seem both familiar and alien, and the deserted bomb shelters (and mention of rationing) reminding us there was a war on just a few months earlier. The use of darkness and shadow is lovely. Most of the film takes place on one night, where it starts out raining hard, and ends up snowing. The frame is often shrouded in darkness at the edges, and Reed uses the shadow of a man running against a wall to good effect, something he reused perhaps a bit too much in The Third Man. The music is also excellent, and was played on location so the actors could synchronise their movements to it, quite a novel concept back then. It is perhaps a smidgen too long, at almost two hours, but this isn't a massive problem.

      I don't think it's quite as good as The Third Man. I prefer the slightly teasing tone that the later film has, which makes it seem more modern. But Odd Man Out has the more powerful ending of the two, and may well leave a lump in your throat. This is a seriously classy film, from the days when the British film industry didn't just mean tax dodges and lottery-funded sitcoms.

      The film looks good in high definition, although perhaps not quite as good as The Third Man (I'm sorry, it's impossible not to compare the two). This is probably more down to the quality of the original films than the Blu-ray conversions. Blacks look very black, and there are none of the weird digital effects you get on some releases where they've been a bit too enthusiastic with their rubbing away the graininess. It's certainly worth getting on Blu-ray, and it's great that British films like this are being released.

      Extras-wide, we get snippets of an interview with James Mason from the 1970s. The full, edited interview is lost, so we get the rushes of parts of it, so as well as Mason talking about his career, there are lots of bits of him just sitting there look round, with clapperboards and stuff being waved in front of him. He's genuinely interesting, though.

      There's also a 50-minuite TV film he made about Huddersfield (he was born there). This is kind of touching, and he was good at this kind of thing (as he is in The London Nobody Knows), but it's an odd choice for this particular Blu-ray. There are also image galleries and a booklet.

      This is a good presentation of a classic film, and when it's come down in price a bit, should be well worth your time and money.

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