Reviews

'Odd Man Out' and 'The Lady From Shanghai' Set the Stage for Carol Reed's 'The Third Man'

The Lady From Shanghai (1947, dir. Orson Welles)

These two movies can be seen as cinematic cousins of Carol Reed's The Third Man, sharing some lineage while nonetheless carving out their own idiosyncratic identities.


Odd Man Out

Director: Carol Reed
Cast: James Mason, Kathleen Ryan, Robert Newton
Distributor: Criterion:
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Janus Films
US DVD release date: 2015-04-14

Carol Reed's classic noir The Third Man has recently received a 4K digital restoration, which will be released in New York at the end of June, with other U.S. cities to follow -- along with, presumably, a new Blu-ray version. The past few months have also seen Blu-ray releases of two movies that can be seen as cinematic cousins of The Third Man, sharing some lineage while nonetheless carving out their own idiosyncratic identities. Reed's Odd Man Out came out in 1947, just a couple of years before The Third Man, and it's another noirish story set in a European city, also shot by Third Man cinematographer Robert Krasker; it was added to the Criterion Collection this spring. The Lady from Shanghai, released the same year as Odd Man Out and now on Blu-ray, stars its writer-director Orson Welles, who has a crucial role in Third Man.

Odd Man Out feels like a closer relative of The Third Man, though it's less well-known. The expressive, canted-angle cinematography that Krasker and Reed made so central to the mood of The Third Man's Vienna is very much on display in Odd Man Out's unnamed Belfast. Per the opening text crawl, the film takes place in "a city in Northern Ireland", and it does not name the Irish Republican Army as the group that prison escapee Johnny McQueen (James Mason) leads, but the parallels are clear in the film's opening minutes. Its early scenes, where Johnny is assigned to commit a robbery to fund his group and wonders whether he's still cut out for a life of violence, are heavy with exposition, but delivered so plainly and wearily that it works: Johnny is talking out his feelings of conflict for himself as much as for the audience.

When the robbery goes wrong, an injured Johnny is sent stumbling through the Belfast night as his love Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan) searches for him. Odd Man Out is framed as a thriller, but has relatively little in the way of real suspense; some scenes walk a like between deliberate and drawn-out, and little debates and anguishes among the people Johnny encounters lend the film a small-town intimacy -- it's about the community Johnny must make his way through as much as Johnny himself (John Hill, an Irish critic who discusses the film in terms of Northern Ireland on the Criterion disc, talks about it in terms of its "urban experience"). When it does get closer to Johnny's point of view, Odd Man Out plays more like an evocative nightmare, moving around Belfast without really going forward.

Odd Man Out (1947, dir. Carol Reed)

It's in those moments that Reed and Krasker seem, in retrospect, to be training for The Third Man, with cinematography that is, if anything, even more striking and stylized than their most acclaimed work. Belfast ("played" by Belfast itself, as well as London) turns abstract in the dark, with street light bouncing off of brick, flashing white into the blackness. Mason slinks into the shadows, in some shots just barely visible or turning to silhouette. When Johnny hides out in an eccentric painter's crumbling mansion, there are shots of snow sprinkling in through the leaking roof, and paintings rearranging, in a hallucination, to resemble a congregation -- or a graveyard. The sights are more surreal than the more restrained use of high-contrast black-and-white in The Third Man, which stays more closely tethered to its noirish story.

DVD: The Lady From Shanghai

Film: The Lady From Shanghai

Director: Orson Welles

Studio: Columbia

Cast: Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane

Rated: Unrated

US DVD release date: 2015-03-17

Distributor: Mill Creek

Rating: 8

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/t/theladyfromshanghai_dvdreview_brart350.jpg

Odd Man Out feels more mournful than a lot of noir; its explorations of violence and human weakness aren't as unforgiving as the genre at its most ruthless. The Lady from Shanghai, on the other hand, assembles its noir elements in more familiar and pleasurable ways, though that assembly was not without its familiar disputes. Executives found a rough cut by Welles too confusing, and the film, like so many Welles projects after Citizen Kane, was cut down against his will. Though the released version does not necessarily reflect Welles' vision, it fits into his filmography, rather than Reed's; it feels now like a case of Welles himself making the kind of genre picture he'd occasionally co-star in for money.

Interestingly, Welles is also cast as an Irishman in Shanghai, though his similarly soft accent is less convincing than Mason's in Odd Man Out. He plays Michael O'Hara, a sailor who rescues Elsa (Rita Hayworth) in New York. She then hires him to work on her husband's yacht; drawn to Elsa, he accepts, as Welles narration explains ruefully that he should have known better. Mike's narration may take up too much of the 88-minute running time, and give away too much information (perhaps a product of reshoots and postproduction tinkering), but it at least offers some characterization, showing Mike as man who'd like to think of himself as self-aware, especially after the fact. He's a noir patsy trying to explain that he's not usually a noir patsy.

But in this particular case, yes, he's a huge noir patsy. Once on the yacht, Mike gets involved with in a scheme involving faked murders, real murders, lust, money, and so on. It's easy to get tangled up in the various crosses, but as with the less immediate plotting of Odd Man Out, the knottier plotting of Lady from Shanghai is secondary to the way the movie looks. The images are memorable long after the plot's intrigue and double-crosses have faded. Much of it is sunnier than Odd Man Out or The Third Man, but even simple over-the-shoulder shots out on the yacht are imbued with dramatic shadows. Copious beads of perspiration, especially visible in the high-definition Blu-ray transfer, up the tension by making it clear that everyone in this movie is sweating like crazy -- save for Hayworth's Elsa, of course.

The Lady From Shanghai doesn't quite resonate like The Third Man, where Welles has far less screen time but a more memorable character as the mysterious Harry Lime; like Odd Man Out, it's more an exercise in style, albeit a more fun one. But on that level, The Lady From Shanghai is terrific, and nearly as entertaining as Reed's film; the famous climactic hall-of-mirrors sequence shows Welles pushing forward stylistically even in what turned out to be a 90-minute potboiler. But Odd Man Out and The Lady from Shanghai don't diminish the classic status of The Third Man. If anything, they make the later Reed film look even more like a culmination of the expressive style, noirish story, and rich themes of the films that directly preceded it.

7

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