Movie Review: Odd Man Out (1947)

Character study in precursor environment of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’

OddManHappened upon the film given four stars by the reviewer on Turner Classic Movies, and checked it out.

Glad I did. Informed by the venerable Robert Osborne that this movie is a launch pad for director Carol Reed who later did such classics as The Third Man, The Agony and the Ecstasy, and Oliver. It also served to elevate James Mason into leading actor territory. In this effort he is cast as an Irish revolutionary leader working for ‘the Organisation’ after having served much time in a British/Unionist prison. [Here’s where I’m unclear on the history, but I believe, looking at my Wikipedia ‘hallowed official knowledge’-bot article on Ireland: I see the Irish Republic—meaning the bulk of the island, except for the northeast six counties—came into existence after considerable struggle in 1921 with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, but it wasn’t until 1949 that ‘full’ independence was achieved and that that land became the Republic of Ireland.

Nine northeastern counties form a province called Ulster, and six of the counties there have ties to the main city of the area, Belfast, and are more industrialized, populated, and historically more tory English in terms of religion and loyalties than in the Republic. So, many of the residents in Northern Ireland wanted to retain political connection to England and resisted republicans aligned with the south who wanted a united Ireland separate from English rule. It appears that Northern Ireland has now come to be relatively peaceful by enabling each side to have its own internal self-rule (more or less)… and is its own distinct country.

Movie Background

IrelandDuring post WW2, which is when the movie is set, in Belfast, the British are definitely all over the place, keeping order and trying to keep the Irish republicans from kicking them out entirely. Though from what I’m reading the Brits were not ‘officially’ empowered to be the police power in Northern Ireland until later, it’s clear they are in charge in 1947… complete with prisons, kangaroo courts, and on the watch for anyone working for ‘the Organisation.’

The James Mason character, is the leader Johnny McQueen, and I must say his stage Irish accent is convincing to my mongrel American ear. He captures the musicality of the dialect. Plot starts prosaically, the team tries a heist for cash, trouble ensues, Johnny is on the lam, people are after him, friend and foe.

The young woman who adores Johnny, Kathleen, agrees with his Number 2, that Johnny has been away too long and is weakened, he needs to let Number 2 lead this operation. To no avail. She looks for him, too. What’s interesting is how the decision transpires in the story. Even though the republicans are working for the Organisation, this is a family affair, they love one another and are totally committed to freedom—young and old alike. Casual participation is not an option: you are in or you are out, and the Occupation must end. It’s not so much that they hate the British, they hate the British who feel the divine right to force them in all areas of their lives. Hey, Americans used to feel that way, too!

Great story, and what makes it conventionally acclaimed is how Johnny is variously treated by the many residents of Belfast—some Unionist but caring, some supposedly republican but snakes and traitors… and drunks, and dishonest artists, and scammers, and business owners who don’t want trouble from the authorities. Odd Man Out is a brilliant character exploration… even the Catholic clergy and the Brit-aligned police inspectors who are drawn as people, not caricatures.

Why I Like It

Odd Man Out is a dangerous movie to the modern consensus-reality collective trance bubble that holds England as some kind of benevolent father figure who loves freedom, puppy dogs, and all that is good. Rather it shows how jolly ol’ England—in terms of its runaway oligarchy of sophisticated, photogenic pleases and thank yous—is and always has been a slaver, a tyrant, a gleeful bonecrusher of expropriation, war, treachery, and death for the benefit of ‘superior’ elites. An engine of destruction for everything human. Nice to see myths dispelled. Who’s for ending the monarchy?

Further, the parallels to our time in modern America are potentially all too scary, as the American experiment in self-government stands to be undone in much the same dreary manner as what the ruling authorities in post-war Belfast would seek. Odd Man Out is a compelling human story, nothing artificial, all solid and inspiring, with moral lessons abounding. [You will also be blown away by much of the photography and sets, the innovation of composition. Truly a brilliant effort.]

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