Kathy (Kathleen Ryan of The Sound of Fury) likes Johnny (James Mason, before The Reckless Moment). He is just out of prison, planning a new heist with his boys. They’re worried that Johnny can’t handle it, but after Johnny is wounded fighting with a guard (whom he kills), his compatriots prove jumpy and incompetent, losing Johnny then hiding at the wrong woman’s house (she turns them into the cops). Now a bloody and delirious Johnny staggers about the city at night during a police manhunt, while Kathy and Robert Beatty (2001: A Space Odyssey) search for him.

Mike D’Angelo:

Current Letterboxd one-sheet proclaims this “the most exciting motion picture ever made!”, which is not just hyperbole but essentially the antithesis of how the film actually works. Mason was already Britain’s top star at the time, yet Odd Man Out incapacitates him almost immediately, leaving him mostly or entirely unconscious for the duration; he’s the passive fulcrum around which a bevy of reactive dramas pivot, collectively providing a portrait of an entire community.

That the movie never specifies the I.R.A., referring only to “the Organization,” in no way renders it any less politically charged, opening disclaimer notwithstanding — there’s a world of bitter truth in the cab driver’s parting admonition “If you get back to your friends, you’ll tell ’em I helped you. Me, Gin Jimmy. But if the police get you, you won’t mention my name, huh?”

Priests and cabbies and passers-by and concerned citizens get involved, and finally Johnny ends up part of a drunken artists’ circus. He’s taken to a pub by parakeet lover Shell (F.J. McCormick, who died a few months after the film’s release) whose crazed painter friend (second-billed Robert Newton, a David Lean regular) insists on painting the dying man. Kathy finds Mason in the end – but so do the police.

Shell (left) and the mad painter:

Features a bunch of Reed’s trademarked sharp wall shadows. Oscar-nominated (for editing) same year as The Bishop’s Wife, Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Black Narcissus and Song of the South, a weird oscar year.

the Story of Film bubbles of influence, times five:

The contemporary Film Quarterly review was written by Force of Evil writer/director Abraham Polonsky. He’s not a huge fan, especially calling out the inspecific nature of Mason’s organization, as if the film could’ve been made if he’d been named a IRA leader.

The closer we examine Odd Man Out, its confusions of motive, its drift from facing out toward what conditions morality to the inner world which denies it, the more adequately we estimate our own reactions, the clearer it becomes that the film, although invested with all the trappings of realism, is nothing more than an enormous fantasy, a fantasy of the unconscious, a confession, a private dream. Odd Man Out is actually a stereotype of realism in the literary form of melodrama. Its content, as differentiated from its mechanical form, is essentially antirealistic, a consideration of a metaphysical and not a social struggle. In treating social events it is necessary to know their precise historical conditions in order to evalute the operation of moral choices. In a metaphysical inquiry we are mainly interested in defining the abstract terms for logical manipulation. Nowadays a whole literary school has arisen, antirealistic in nature, which is devoted to deciding whether organization-as-such is evil (not whether this organization is evil or not), and whether man’s inner agony is a condition of physical existence (not whether this social existence or that creates terror and anxiety in his spirit). Such questions are not considered useful from the point of view of reality.

He contrasts it with Monsieur Verdoux, “a free film, made with an artist’s freedom from censorship, freely invented, and always brought into relation to a living social condition.”

Pandora (Ava Gardner) is immediately set up as destructive and impulsive, getting the man who loves her (Nigel Patrick of The League of Gentlemen) to wreck his prize racecar in exchange for engagement. Her other suitors don’t take this well – Marius Goring (young lovestruck composer of The Red Shoes) kills himself, and a vain, famous matador gets jealous. All this depresses poor Sheila Sim (star of A Canterbury Tale), who always thought she’d marry the racer.

But none of it matters, because Flying Dutchman James Mason (two years after The Reckless Moment) joins the party, doomed to sail the seas until he finds a faithful woman, and surprised to see that Pandora is the image of his own wife, murdered centuries ago. So they are obviously destined to be together (and soon die together, as the prologue already revealed). Before that, the matador is (justly) killed, Sheila’s uncle reads us the Dutchman’s diary to fill in backstory, and John Laurie (sideburned village elder in Edge of the World) is occasionally spotted in a supporting role.

Mostly the movie is known as a gorgeously-shot (by Jack Cardiff) technicolor spectacular, which looks just great on blu-ray. And there’s a remarkable chess set by Man Ray, who also did the paintings in the Dutchman’s cabin.

Madame de… (1952)

A talky rich-person drama with lots of fainting – not usually my thing. Of course it’s sumptuously shot, and I got caught up in the drama by the end.

The earrings of Madame:

Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux, costars of Mayerling seventeen years earlier, are an upper-class married couple (she also played a married cheater in La Ronde, and I know Boyer from Stavisky twenty years later and Liliom twenty years earlier). He’s a general and a count, and she’s a socialite, secretly running up debts, so she sells a pair of diamond earrings, a gift from her husband.

Boyer in bed:

After she claims to have lost her earrings there’s a blow-up about possible theft at the theater, so the jeweler (Jean Debucourt of The Eagle Has Two Heads) contacts the general, tells him the story, and Boyer buys them back, gives them as a parting gift to his affair Lola. She immediately gambles them away and they’re bought by Baron Vittorio De Sica (the year after he shot Umberto D, six years before Il Generale della Rovere), who sees Madame Darrieux then stalks her at every party until she falls in love with him.

He eventually gives her the earrings, and she claims to have found the lost earrings – a sign to her husband of her extramarital affair, and a reminder of his. Feelings are hurt, honor is challenged, a duel is arranged – she gives away the earrings to a church before fainting to death as her husband shoots Baron Vittorio off-camera.

Ophuls’s second-to-last film, after Le Plaisir. Written by Louise de Vilmorin, who would adapt other writers’ stories into screenplays on The Immortal Story on Malle’s The Lovers.

M. Haskell:

[Madame de…], beginning in the lilting superficiality of a frivolous woman looking to pawn her jewels and ending in death and the ironic sanctification of those jewels, is Ophuls at his bleakest and most beautiful. The very opulence and swirl of the world from which Madame de is ostracizing herself — the opera, the gowns, the balls, the jewels, the servants — will be stripped away as love burns through the outer layers of life. A woman is rescued from shallowness and inauthenticity, but at what a price!

The Reckless Moment (1949)

The last of his quartet of Hollywood films (nobody ever talks about the Douglas Fairbanks period drama The Exile). Ophuls’ attempts at style and elegance are mostly lost here, trampled by the silly thriller plot of this cheapie noir.

Best part is Joan Bennett (star of four Fritz Lang films in the 40’s) who goes to ever-lower depths to protect her foolish young daughter who’s been going out with a sleazeball (Shepperd Strudwick, who’d once starred as Edgar Allen Poe). Joan drives from her idyllic small lake town into the big scary city to tell the guy to piss off, but he comes by the house that night, falling to his death onto an anchor after the girl whacks him on the head with a flashlight. Great, wordless scene follows as Joan discovers the body the next morning then dumps it in the lake.

So the cops have found the body and suddenly irish-accented James Mason (returning from Ophuls’s Caught six months earlier) shows up to blackmail Joan over the dead guy. She tries to raise the cash, but with her husband out of town can’t manage it. Fortunately, unbelievably, Mason falls for her and tries to protect her from his partner who still wants the money (Mason is a terrible blackmailer). They nearly kill each other and Mason stages a car crash to get Joan off the hook.

Mason in the shadows:

Since it’s a 1940’s movie the family has a black housekeeper, Cybil, who once says an entire line fully on-camera that got erased by the music score. Wonder what it was. Joan’s daughter mostly pouts in her room while Joan’s insufferably hollywood-youth-talkin’ son putters with his jalopy.

Based on a story for Ladies Home Journal, naturally. Remade with Tilda Swinton in 2001.

I enjoyed the crazily over-the-top performances of Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause and Johnny Guitar but didn’t get much of a sense for his filmmaking – unless his thing was casting unhinged actors and letting them loose within overly melodramatic stories. I suppose he also made extreme/sly comments on society with Johnny’s crusading zealot McCarthy figure and Rebel’s mixed messages on masculinity and family units. Well, this one brings it all together, with an extreme (but less “method”) performance by James Mason and a brutal attack on society and family and everything else. I don’t know if it’s that tying-together of the Ray threads or the movie itself, but I’m currently loving it more than the other two.

Good mirror:

Bad mirror:

Scary mirror:

Mason is a schoolteacher who starts experiencing massive pain. Doctor says the pain will get worse and he’ll be dead in months unless he takes miracle-drug cortisone (wikipedia: “a steroid hormone … suppresses the immune system, thus reducing inflammation and attendant pain”). So Mason pops some pills and all is well – he and loving wife Lou (!) and son Richie carry on with their movie-perfect 50’s lifestyle. But it’s not as perfect as all that… schoolteacher salaries were low even back then, so Mason holds a secret after-school job as a taxi dispatcher in order to keep up those perfect middle-class appearances. The cortisone is expensive, and worse, Mason is forgetful – misses some doses and doubles some others, until he’s taking twice the proper dosage and starting to go completely manic from the side-effects. He quits his cab job, tries to get fired from the school, berates everyone he comes across and finally, in a state of biblical delusion, conspires to kill his son. Last-minute rescue (in the form of a stairway fistfight with buddy Walter Matthau, which alone is worth the price of admission) returns Mason to the hospital, where the doctor straightens out his dosage and brings him back to his senses. Hoorah for modern medicine!

Pain chart:

Walter Matthau!

I guess this was the American Beauty of its time, allowing a white suburban dad to rebel against his status and say things that nice people should not say, attracting the attention of the neighbors, to the horror of his wife. Only this was so much better. The wife (as already contrasted with the wife in Close Encounters) is understanding and recognizably human, there’s a reason given for Mason’s outbursts (drug effects, vs. Spacey’s midlife crisis) and a more reasonable ending (it’s too easy to end your movie by having a sexually-frustrated neighbor shoot your lead character to death).

Good praying:

Bad praying:

One writer worked on three decades’ worth of James Bond movies and the other scripted Forbidden Planet which also came out in ’56 – sounds more like the kind of team that would’ve come up with Star Wars than this. Suppose I’ve seen James Mason in Lolita but he made more of an impression here, with his unexplained foreign accent in the California suburbs, his mad energy shaped (if not subdued) by his British schoolteacher’s intelligence. Barbara Rush (who had appropriately just appeared in a Douglas Sirk movie, as Jane Wyman’s meddling daughter in Magnificent Obsession) was just as good, and it’s always nice to see Walter Matthau, here in one of his first roles.

Cover shot:

Barbara Rush, one more time: