Carol Reed's Odd Man Out wasn't really a discovery for me since I anyway expected it to be great (being a huge fan of The Third Man) but it really exceeded all my expectations.
The film starts in the morning with Johnny (played by James Mason) and his gang of Irish revolutionaries planning on a bank robbery which goes wrong. The way the story is told it almost feels as if it takes place in real time, which in a way it does, since everything ends just before the midnight of the same day. The robbery goes wrong because Johnny has a nervous attack just before they plan to escape with the loot. The way everything is setup it becomes clear that his sudden nervous attack is not only because he has just come out of prison after spending six months inside but also because he has a conflicted conscience about terrorism and violence. (The opening title card of film even says that the film is not concerned with the Irish separatism or any such movement but rather solely about "the conflicts inside the heart of men"). Following a scuffle during the escape Johnny is shot and wounded and he shoots the policeman. When he later gains consciousness, the first thing he wants to know is whether the person who was shot was killed or not. When he is informed that yes he died, we see that he has suffered yet another wound, this time a moral and spiritual wound. From then on, it is all downhill for him, as he suffers both physically and spiritually and searches for salvation. It actually reminded me of Crime and Punishment.
There are a few sequences in the film which don't work as well as the rest of the film does. One sequence in particular towards the end of the film where a couple of secondary characters argue about immortality of soul and some such thing. Some of the scenes which shows Johnny's hallucinations also feel slightly high handed - sort of second hand and amateurish expressionism like the scene where Johnny quotes a line about "charity" from bible to what he thinks is the Priest himself. When he can't hear what the priest replies to him he rues if only they had all listened to him and not drowned his voice with their own debates and arguments.
Robert Krasker, the man behind The Third Man, Great Expectations and Brief Encounter also shot this film. The chiaroscuro effect that he creates using the night time city landscape and the snow is just spectacular. It is hard to describe in the words. It has to be seen to be believed. James Mason has surely the most beautiful and beauitfully expressive faces (or at least masculine faces) ever captured on screen. There is not much for him to do dramatically, except to show the effort he has to make to drag himself but he still conveys an extraodinary sensitivity, pain and despair just by his face. James Mason dragging himself in the snow must surely be one of the great moments in cinema and so must be the heartbreaking ending. This is a classic for ages.
This contains links to reviews and quotes about the film. Roman Polanski says, "Superior, I think, to The Third Man. What really grabbed me at sixteen was the heavy atmosphere that hangs over everybody in the town. I still consider it one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and a film which made me want to pursue this career more than anything else. It’s still fabulous, probably James Mason’s best picture. No film made me happier than Odd Man Out.”