The film begins with a preface that explains that, though the film takes place in a time of political unrest, this is the tale of innocents caught in the mix between the law and the outlaws. That's kind of a downer to start the movie, eh? An organization --- which is in no way supposed to resemble the IRA, except it is in Ireland, is against the government, and is absolutely an IRA analogue --- is planning to rob a mill to fund their further exploits against the government. The leader of the organization is Johnny McQueen, (James Mason), who spent a long stretch in jail before escaping a few months back; since then, he's kept a low profile in a woman's house, and this is his first gig back in the action. There is some question about whether Johnny is up to a strenuous robbery, but he insists on leading the heist. Bad idea. He gets stressed out, starts daydreaming, and ends up getting shot --- and shooting a civilian --- before escaping. He doesn't get away scot-free (interesting side note: that phrase is Scandinavian. Who knew?), though. His buddies, in their haste to escape a murder/robbery scene, fail to secure Johnny in the car, and he falls out. This means that Johnny has to find his own shelter, while wounded, in a town that doesn't want to offend either the Irish radicals or the British government; Johnny is their leader, though, which means that his organization can't afford to let him get caught.
If you are not familiar with James Mason, that's okay. Until I saw this movie, neither was I. It turns out, the man was a pretty popular actor at the time, and a handsome man, too boot.
|He's like Gregory Peck, only capable of smiling.|
|Limeys + drag = James Mason jokes?|
The real star of the film is the direction from Carol Reed. Reed, along with his cinematographer Robert Krasker, made a beautiful movie. While the acting wasn't terribly impressive --- which isn't a surprise, given the fact that the main character is stumbling around, half-conscious, for most of the movie --- the story is still interesting. That credit goes to the director. What I liked more than the storytelling were the visuals. Many scenes were gorgeously framed, adding to the growing dread and anxiety of the film's tone.
|Pop quiz: is something good going to happen here?|
As impressive as the direction and cinematography are, the film doesn't quite live up to them. The main problem lies in the script; by focusing on how Johnny made others react --- I have never watched a film where so many characters opted to not help a wounded man --- it became more of a social commentary than a story. I also didn't follow the logic of the primary supporting characters. Robert Beatty's character had a plan to distract the police, but it was more than a little sketchy. As for Johnny's crazy almost-girlfriend, she discussed the option of a murder-suicide with a priest. There aren't many people who will listen to that and agree that it's the best solution, but a priest is probably the worst choice. I'm also confused as to why the IRA ran away from the police who were checking random civilian IDs on the street; am I supposed to believe that a group of militant activists don't have any fake IDs --- especially when they didn't require photographs? What deliberate lawbreaker doesn't have a fake ID? Turning around and walking away from an inquiring policeman isn't a Plan B. It's stupid. It's not terribly annoying, though, just dumb. The opening preface that tells the audience what to think was annoying; I'm sure it was tacked on by the movie studio to avoid any IRA-related hostilities/sympathies, but the audience should be able to figure that out on their own.
Even with all those problems, I thought this movie was pretty decent. Even playing a wounded man, James Mason was appealing and I always enjoy a visually interesting film. This could have been a fantastic movie, given the director and lead actor, but the script was lacking. Still, it's worth a look for any fans of the genre that are curious what an Irish noir might look like.
While researching James Mason, I stumbled across this ad campaign for Thunderbird wine. That's right, the bum wine. Yes, the stuff that tastes and smells like gasoline. How did a bum wine get a classy guy like James Mason to be its public face? Hint: he loves the smell and taste of gasoline.