‘Odd Man Out’ – Irish noir on Max and Criterion Channel

Odd Man Out (1947) has been called Carol Reed’s first masterpiece, and with good reason.

His first film after World War II is drenched in a darkness (both visually and dramatically) and a sense of isolation and doom. It also made a star of James Mason, who plays the IRA leader who leads a bank robbery gone wrong. Wounded and alone, he stumbles through Belfast at night as the police and his mates alike search for him and civilians alternately help and betray him to the police.

Mason becomes a tragic figure as he loses blood and becomes delirious, a passive figure at the mercy of those with their own plans for him. Reed and his screenwriters don’t get into the politics of his mission, focusing instead on his passion and vulnerability and the rich pageant of characters who cross paths with him, notably an opportunistic drunk (F.J. McCormick) and an artist who sees the suffering of Christ in his face.

Though set in pre-World War II Ireland, it has much in common with 1940s American film noir. The photography is dramatic and atmospheric and ominous and cinematographer Robert Krasker (who went on to shoot The Third Man for Reed) periodically distorts the image to give us Mason point-of-view as he drifts in and out of consciousness.

Odd Man Out is one of the great British films of the 1940s and a powerful drama of one man’s long dark night of the soul, with a climax that is both bleak and tragically romantic.

It costars Kathleen Ryan, Robert Newton, Cyril Cusak, Fay Compton, Dan O’Herlihy, and future “Doctor Who” William Hartnell.

It won a BAFTA for best British film and earned an Oscar nomination for film editing.

Black and white

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Odd Man Out (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Odd Man Out (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]

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The Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD releases feature scholarly interviews, new and archival documentaries, and a 1952 radio adaptation of the film with James Mason.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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