A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Odd Man Out (Carol Reed, 1947)

The collaboration of director Carol Reed and cinematographer Robert Krasker on Odd Man Out is perhaps not as celebrated as the one on The Third Man (1949), but in some ways it's more impressive. The Third Man has a tighter screenplay and a location, postwar Vienna, that lent itself more readily to the kind of expressionistic atmosphere Krasker's images of it supply. Odd Man Out is a looser, more episodic story. As its title almost suggests, it's a kind of reworking of the Odyssey, the archetypal perilous-journey narrative. Reed made a decision at some point to treat the first part of the film, the planning and commission of the heist, in a conventionally realistic fashion and then gradually to shift into something more expressionistic, something that reveals the disintegrating state of the dying Johnny McQueen's mind. He needed an actor like James Mason, who could give Johnny the necessary charisma while still suggesting the character's damaged state of mind from the outset. But he also needed Krasker's ability to present actuality and then to transform it into something stranger than reality, to suggest the menace lurking in the mundane streets of Belfast and then to work with the baroquely sinister sets designed by Ralph W. Brinton and Roger K. Furse that include the ornate Four Winds Saloon (based on an actual Belfast pub but created in the studio) and the decaying Victorian residence of Shell (F.J. McCormick) and the mad painter Lukey (Robert Newton). We first begin to see the transition when Johnny experiences vertigo while riding through the streets of the city, but from the moment when the wounded Johnny takes cover in an abandoned air-raid shelter, where reality becomes indistinguishable from Johnny's fevered prison memories and other hallucinations, the film increasingly steps away from realism. Even the weather plays a role in subverting realism: The semi-conscious Johnny is left by Shell in an old bathtub in a lot filled with junk, including a statue of an angel whose nose seems to run after the rain starts to fall. Later, when rain has turned to snow, an icicle hangs from the drippy nose. The encounters with Belfast street kids are like meeting the children of Pandemonium. The cast, much of it recruited from Dublin's Abbey Theatre, is superb, including Kathleen Ryan, Cyril Cusack, Dan O'Herlihy, and Denis O'Dea. Robert Newton received pre-title second billing with Mason, which is certainly out of keeping with the size of his role, and there are those who find Newton's Lukey out of key with the less showy performances of the other actors: Pauline Kael calls it "a badly misconceived performance in a badly misconceived role." But for me it brings the ferment of the manhunt and the increasingly bizarre handing-about of Johnny to a kind of necessary climax before Johnny's reunion with Kathleen (Ryan) and the inevitable outcome.

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