Recalling my fondness for James Mason as an actor, I recently bought a DVD of "The Desert Fox." Although Mason is as usual excellent in the title role, the film itself seems so dreadfully dated! I then realized that my continued regard for Mason as an actor actually stems from his performance as Johnny McQueen, in Carol Reed's "Odd Man Out," which I first saw as a child (Mason's luminous interpretation of the dying McQueen has cast a glow on my memory of all his performances, including a hypothetical reading of the telephone book!). I can never forget the scene in the artist's garret when, in a moment of recognition, McQueen speaks "with the tongues of men and of angels."
"Odd Man Out" does not disappoint, even after sixty years. It still brings fresh tears to my eyes. How can the film miss with the nuanced direction of Carol Reed, the haunting music of William Alwyn, and the splendid cinematography of Robert Krasker--to say nothing of the actors? Every character--from the urchins on the street to the anonymous passers-by--some who help; others who hinder--is perfect. Kathleen Ryan gives a beautifully understated performance as the woman who will die for McQueen, and Robert Newton is brilliant in the role of Lukey, an artist, whom starvation has driven beyond the point of madness. The actors, who play Lukey's companions-in-misery--Shell, a down-and-outer looking for rewards, and Tober, a ruined medical student, whose Eton accent speaks of better times--are splendid.
As for Mason, "Odd Man Out" brought him fame as well as the attention of Hollywood, and a subsequent series of mediocre--albeit entertaining--potboilers, in which his gifted performances simply do not compare to his timeless interpretation of the Irish militant, Johnny McQueen. Jamie, we hardly knew you!