Critics often refer to Odd Man Out as a political film, but its director Carol Reed believed his film was apolitical. I agree with the latter. Odd Man Out centers on the conflict in Belfast as the IRA (Irish Republican Army) fight or terrorize, depending on your view, for an independent republic in Northern Ireland. In the film, the IRA is referred to as “the organization,” immediately depoliticizing the IRA. The city of Belfast is not mentioned, and many of the actors are not Northern Irish. Odd Man Out is not as much about political triumph as it is a stylistic wonder and precursor to Reed’s magnum opus The Third Man.
When the leader of a revolutionary gang, Johnny (James Mason), is mortally wounded after a bank robbery goes wrong, he must escape the city, which remains unnamed, before the police find him. As he crawls around in the city, he depends on the kindness of strangers to try to mend his wounds or help him escape.
The film does not only follow Johnny but many of the surrounding characters that intersect with Johnny’s path: the small and impish Schell, who tries to reunite Johnny with his love Kathleen, the barkeep at the Crown Bar, or the drunk artist, Lukey, played by Robert Newton. Each character is given his or her reason for helping Johnny. They are forced to make political and moral decisions.
The film acts as Rorschach test for the audience, asking the question: to where does your loyalty lie? The film is set up to feel sympathetic for Johnny, but in rooting for him, you are rooting for a criminal and a murderer. You can side with the police, but they are mostly faceless and will prevent Johnny from reuniting with Kathleen. Odd Man Out is a morality play not only for the characters that inhabit the film, but also for the audience. Whose side are you on?