Stephen Whitty
August 08, 1997 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Odd Man Out

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
run date
Erik von Detten, Markie Post

We gave it an B+

Life is too short not to hold grudges, and in Ireland enmities are as tenderly nursed as an invalid mother. Even when peace breaks out, Protestant marchers still commemorate their military victory of 1690. Catholic schoolkids can recite Cromwell’s crimes as if they were committed yesterday.

The conflict was made for drama, and long before Hollywood got hold of it and made films like Blown Away or the new-to-video The Devil’s Own, the best stories about Irish rebels came, not surprisingly, from Ireland and even England, where the Brits have fought the Irish independence movement too long to reduce it to a plot gimmick. Loathed or loved, the Irish Republican Army and its allies are always viewed with caution and a certain amount of respect.

Odd Man Out, Carol Reed’s superlative 1947 drama, set an early example. It plays things cagily; an impossibly young and darkly handsome James Mason is the leader of ”the Organization,” an illegal movement based ”in a city of Northern Ireland.” But the Falls Road bus sign gives the game away as quickly as Mason’s pragmatic violence. This is Belfast — and the IRA — and Mason’s daring daylight robbery is done not for cash but for the cause.

Of course, things go horribly wrong. Badly wounded, Mason staggers down dreary streets that hint at The Third Man to come. The film gets a bit lost then, too, as Reed lays on his touch of the poet with a trowel, cramming the screen with eccentrics. Yet it never descends to partisan propaganda, never stoops to pat denunciation of the rebels’ motives or actions. Unlike later IRA movies A Prayer for the Dying, Patriot Games, it sees Mason as all too human, and when his story ends at the stroke of midnight, the tragedy feels full and inevitable. B+

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