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Film / Odd Man Out

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Odd Man Out is a 1947 film directed by Carol Reed and starring James Mason in his Star-Making Role.

It takes place over a single afternoon and evening in an unnamed city in Northern Ireland that is obviously Belfast. Johnny McQueen (Mason) is the leader of a cell in an unnamed "illegal organization" that is obviously the Irish Republican Army. As the film opens, Johnny and his gang are planning to rob the safe of a local textile mill, seeking cash to fund operations and provide for the dependents of IRA members. The only problem is, the rest of the gang is worried about Johnny's leadership. Johnny was in prison for six months and then he spent six more months in hiding, holed up in the home of his girlfriend Kathleen, and the others have noticed that Johnny seems to have gone a little bit soft. Both Kathleen and Johnny's lancer Dennis urge him to sit the robbery out, but he refuses.

It turns out that they were right to worry. Johnny has a dizzy spell at the worst possible moment as the gang is escaping from the textile mill. He's stopped by a man from the mill, and in the struggle the mill worker is fatally shot and Johnny is seriously wounded in the arm. To make matters worse, he can't get into the car during the frantic getaway and eventually falls out onto the street as the car careens through Belfast. Johnny staggers away and eventually finds a temporary hiding place in an old bomb shelter. He spends the next several hours bouncing around Belfast, getting steadily weaker and weaker from loss of blood, while Dennis and Kathleen try to save him, the police try and catch him, and various civilians either try to stay uninvolved or seek to turn him in for the reward.

It's considered a classic of British cinema, winning the inaugural BAFTA Award for Best British Film and often gracing lists of the best British films of all time.


  • Adaptational Name Change: In F.L. Green's novel, Johnny's last name is Murtah. It's changed to McQueen for the film.
  • Adaptational Sympathy: Johnny is portrayed much more sympathetically in the film, which emphasizes his sense of guilt over having killed a guard and his desire to disavow terrorist violence as a means to an end, than in F.L. Green's novel. The film also makes it a point not to take a side in the Loyalist vs. Republican conflict of Northern Ireland, in contrast to the novel's entirely negative portrayal of "The Organization" (IRA).
  • Alas, Poor Villain: The entire film is based on this trope. Johnny, in spite of his criminal history, is portrayed as a sympathetic, suffering figure through much of the film.
  • The Alcoholic: Lukey and Shell.
  • Apathetic Citizens: Most of the people Johnny encounters want nothing to do with him. The ones who do, want to turn him in for the reward.
  • Armed Blag: A safe, instead of the usual armored car, but the trope plays out this way with gun-toting tough guys stealing a lot of cash.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Near the end, Johnny, who is rapidly fading, starts shouting out from the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians (the "when I was a child, I spoke as a child" chapter).
  • The Atoner: Johnny is racked with guilt over having killed the bank clerk, and was already disillusioned with and ready to renounce crime and terrorism as a means of achieving political aims shortly before the raid. The scene in Lukey's studio where Johnny stands and quotes Corinthians 1:13 lampshades his guilt over his previous lack of kindness and compassion towards others.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Tober, who abandoned his medical studies some time ago for reasons unexplained, and is now hanging out with drunks and weirdos like Shell and Lukey. He quite competently sews up Johnny's wound when Johnny is brought to him.
  • Blatant Lies: The getaway car driver helps cause the disaster by refusing to back up after Johnny falls out of the car. Later, after they have to report back to Dennis, he insisted that he wanted to go back for Johnny but the other two members of the gang told him not to.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The gun at Grandma's house, which Kathleen manages to hide in her coat in a tense scene where the cops are searching the house. It remains in her coat until the ending where she uses it to commit Suicide by Cop.
  • Chiaroscuro: Lots of shots of people dashing down dark, damp Belfast streets that are lit dramatically by the beams of streetlights. These shots are dramatically reminiscent of some shots in Reed's other classic, The Third Man.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Not cats and not a lady. But Shell the derelict is a weird old man who lives in a shabby room that's crammed full of birds in cages.
  • Downer Ending: Johnny and Kathleen are within sight of the ship that will bear them to safety when the cops chase them down. Kathleen, knowing there's no escape, pulls out a gun and commits Suicide by Cop. Kathleen and Johnny die, we pan up to the Albert Memorial Clock, and the movie ends.
  • Empathic Environment: The bleak trajectory of the story is mirrored by cloudy skies giving way to heavy rain (forcing Johnny to slog through the mud at several points) and eventually snow, with the freezing weather an omen of death.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: A little more than eight hours. There's a scene with the robbery planning, then the Albert Clock is heard striking four during the robbery, and at the end the clock is heard striking midnight.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: How Johnny is framed as he's trying to hide from the two young lovers who have snuck into the bomb shelter for sex.
  • Fictional Counterpart: An "illegal organization" in the opening credits, and referred to after as "the organization" by its members. It's very, very clearly the IRA.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on the 1945 novel of the same name by F.L. Green, which is now comparatively obscure thanks to Adaptational Displacement.
  • Gilligan Cut: One of the two gang members hiding at Theresa's house insists that they can trust her, saying "I know Theresa like I know a bad sixpence. She's right as rain." This is immediately followed by Theresa calling the cops and telling them that two IRA soldiers are hiding in her house.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: It's pouring rain as Johnny is sent back out in the street, still bleeding profusely and steadily growing weaker, after Maudie's husband comes home and refuses to let her shelter a wanted criminal.
  • Gun Struggle: The struggle between Johnny and the payroll clerk at the mill ends, unusually, with both of them getting shot. Johnny's seriously wounded and the other guy is dead.
  • Hallucinations: Johnny hallucinates the people he's encountered during the evening, while staring down into the foam bubbles of spilled beer. Later, he has a hallucination of the priest preaching and of Lukey's paintings swarming at him.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: And completely accidentally. Johnny gets shoved into the back of a carriage, where he passes out. "Gin" the carriage driver, who has no idea that a wanted murderer is in his carriage, casually drives up to the police checkpoint. The patrolman sees a man slumped in the back and asks who Gin is carrying. Gen cheerfully says "Johnny!" The cop laughs and waves him through. Gin is horrified to later discover that Johnny really was in the back of his carriage.
  • Hitler Cam: Used for a shot of Johnny as he starts to get more Christ-like while quoting from 1st Corinthians.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Shell says that he wants to turn Johnny in for the reward, Lukey smacks him around and calls him a dirty rat, supposedly because Shell is unconcerned both with the fact that Johnny is seriously wounded nor with bringing a fugitive to justice - he's just in it for the money. It then turns out that Lukey is equally unconcerned with either Johnny's well-being or with justice being served - he just wants an opportunity to paint a portrait of a dying man. The only difference between Shell and Lukey's selfish motive is that Lukey's is a little more esoteric.
  • I Have This Friend: A slight variation on this happens when Shell tells Father Tom and Kathleen that he has Johnny in his "care." Shell talks about one of his pet budgies (named Johnny) who killed another budgie and wound up with a broken wing.
  • Impairment Shot: Johnny has a dizzy spell while fleeing the office, with disastrous consequences.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Granny points to her old wedding picture and says to Kathleen, "I was 19 then, and as lovely as yourself." Then she talks some more about how all the young men of the neighborhood pursued her. She's not just reminiscing, she has a point; she dumped a rascally outlaw in favor of a dependable husband, and Kathleen should do the same.
  • Large Ham: Robert Newton chews the scenery as eccentric, roguish Starving Artist Lukey.
  • Messianic Archetype: The film is filled with religious iconography. Johnny eventually becomes a Christ-like figure, suffering as he staggers around downtown Belfast in a manner that evokes Christ's journey to Calvary (and encountering people like Shell who wish to turn him into the authorities for monetary reward). Near the end he's reciting New Testament verses.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: It's "a city of Northern Ireland" that is quite plainly Belfast, showing the docks and the Albert Memorial Clock. Likewise, the IRA are never called by that name, only an "illegal organization."
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Or rather, barely bothering with the accent in the case James Mason and the other English actors such as Robert Newton (contrast their speech to the native Irish accents of Kathleen Ryan, Cyril Cusack, and Dan O'Herlihy).
  • Pinball Protagonist: After he gets shot, Johnny is largely passive for the rest of the movie, other than stumbling around and sometimes drifting on the edge of consciousness. It's not him that's driving the action, but the other people that run into him, like the barkeep who is desperate to get him out of the bar, or the cabbie who is unpleasantly surprised to find Johnny passed out in the back of the cab, the little girl who leads Dennis to Johnny's hiding place, and others.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Lukey and Shell's drunken antics provide moments of comedy in what is otherwise a very dark movie (although their lives are rather pitiful and depressing in their own right).
  • Price on Their Head: The police offer a reward of one thousand British Pounds (a substantial amount for the 1940s - roughly the equivalent of 50-60,000 Pounds today) for information leading to Johnny's capture. Theresa tries to cash in on the reward, Shell tries to do the same until Father Tom dissuades him.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The police inspector hunting for Johnny. He's intimidating, but fair-minded. He warns Kathleen that Johnny belongs to the law now and there's nothing she can do for him. It's also debatable whether a policeman simply doing his job (and not doing anything illegal or unethical in the process) can be called a "villain", so arguably he's more of a Reasonable Authority Figure.
    Granny: That wasn't a bad fellow as far as them fellows goes. He spoke fair."
  • Purgatory and Limbo: One interpretation of Johnny's final hours in the stranger, shadier parts of the city is that his various encounters, real and imagined, serve as an allegorical personal purgatory.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Johnny had planned on abandoning crime and violence as a means of achieving political ends and is racked with guilt over having killed a man during the botched robbery. It's quite clear that he doesn't fear dying and probably sees his own impending death as just.
  • Snow Means Death: The rain from earlier in the evening has turned to snow at the end, setting an appropriate mood as a dying Johnny staggers towards the docks.
  • Starving Artist: Lukey is unable to sell any of his paintings, lives in squalor with fellow eccentric drunks Shell and Tober, and does his best to bum free drinks at the local pub.
  • Suicide by Cop: The police have tracked them to the pier. Johnny can barely stand; Kathleen realizes that they aren't going to make it to the boat waiting to take Johnny away. So she pulls out a gun and starts shooting, and both she and Johnny are killed.
  • Together in Death: Kathleen and Johnny are found crumpled in death together after they're shot down by the cops.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Lukey and Shell (though most of the vitriole is on Lukey's part).
  • We Need a Distraction: Dennis helps Johnny to escape by drawing the attention of the approaching cops, running off, and then firing his gun into the air. Johnny is able to successfully stumble away.