Friday, February 12, 2010

Accent on Belfast

From the sewers to the streets, Carol Reed excelled at depicting hunted men fleeing through dark cities. In The Third Man, it was Orson Welles' Harry Lime in Vienna. In Odd Man Out, it was James Mason negotiating dark passages and scary accents in Belfast as he seeks safety after a botched bank robbery.

That is, the city looks like Belfast, though it is never named. Nor is "The Organization" for which Mason's Johnny McQueen plans the robbery named. Nor are the words England, English, Britain, British, IRA, Republican or Irish Republican Army uttered, if my memory serves me well.

Was an English audience unprepared for political explicitness in 1947? Was the British Board of Film Censors unprepared to allow it? Does anyone out there know whether F.L. Green's novel, on which the movie is based, is more explicit on such matters?
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Wikipedia says Odd Man Out's cast was drawn largely from Dublin's Abbey Theatre, but Mason sounds like his upper-class English self, only intermittently trying some well-enunciated stage Irish. Robert Beatty, fine as a member of "The Organization," doesn't even try to sound Irish. I thought he was American, but he turns out to have been from Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada. As Wikipedia puts it, "Few of the main actors in the film actually manage an authentic Ulster accent."
***
A further oddity, and a question for Irish readers, especially: One scene takes three of Johnny's friends into Belfast's entries, the atmospheric alleyways that slice through the city's center, only to bring them out by a row of fine brick houses like the ones in South Belfast, up the hill and a fair distance away. Was that artistic license, or did Belfast's center once contain similar grand red-brick homes? I'll guess the former, because there's an obvious cut between the "entry" shot and the shot with the houses.

See Mason hallucinate here. See Orson Welles chased through Vienna's sewers in The Third Man here. And here's a story about efforts to track down Odd Man Out's child actors sixty years after the film was released.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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15 Comments:

Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, the Wikipedia article says exterior scenes were shot in West Belfast ... though which ones were shot there and which were recreated at the studio in England, I don't know.

February 12, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Pottinger's Entry is right there on High Street to this day. In fact Pottinger's Entry comes out right where the gibbet was where they hanged the United Irishmen including Henry Joy McCracken.

Its also I think (and I hope Brennan weighs on on this) where the Mermaid Tavern is - the source of the best bowl of stew in the city. Although the Crown Bar which features in much of Odd Man Out (with the first Dr Who as the barman) does a mean pint and stew combo too. Tony Bourdain ate there and approved that very combination (I saw Van Morrison eating in there once too) and both my children were blooded on Guinness and stew in there too.

February 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hope both of you weigh in on this. I know Pottinger's Entry and a few of the others from my own wanderings. I don't know if there are entries outside the center, so that's why I assumed the outside shots are meant to be in that part of the city. Of course, since the city is never named, the moviemakers have a bit of license.

A couple of views of the skyline included what appeared to be a matte shot that included two distant cranes -- predecessors of Samson and Goliath?

I've stopped in at the Crown on both my visits to Belfast, though the evening I'd have eaten there, the kichen was closed for a private party.

February 12, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

The Third Man is the better film but I think Odd Man Out still holds up pretty well. I dont mind Mason's accent. There were plenty of IRA fellow travellers who were English.

February 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The thing I found occasionally distracting about Mason's performance is that sometimes his accent appeared to be English and other times Irish. Of course, his own distinctive vocal style may have been the distraction.

I liked "Odd Man Out." It's a little more sentimental than "The Third Man" -- well, a lot more -- but it's not as sentimental as a story like that could have been. And Reed really did have a knack for atmospheric nocturnal chases.

February 12, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter,
I like Odd Man Out too. I've always been an admirer of James Mason's acting and he's particularly good here, even if the accent is dodgy.

I thought Robert Newton as the painter was horrible but all the other smaller parts were terrific. Obviously, the Abbey had a lot of great actors in the 40s.

To my ear, only Cyril Cusack (who played the getaway driver early in the movie) put on a decent NI accent.

It seems the book has been out of print for a while. I came across a reference to it in a blog by Richard Blandford. He says it was so bad he couldn't finish it. He quotes the following line:

Nobody who observed Johnny suspected what mysterious forces were moving and cogitating in him; for only when human eyes see the body’s dead husk is its emptiness eloquent of the mysterious powers that have departed forever from it.

He also quotes Luis Bunuel as saying you should only make films from bad books, which I think is an interesting idea. What I've noticed is how often good films are made from short stories. Perhaps even more than are made from novels.

February 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I remember the driver's accent seemed authentically Irish, though I would have been unable to place it in a particular part of Ireland.

I don't know whether to blame Robert Newton's performance on his acting or the script. I'd have liked to see more of the failed doctor who operates on Johnny. And I'd agree that the acting was good. None of the performances was painful to watch and even the parts that could have gone over the top into comic or melodramatic schtick did not.

McKinty is unsparing in his critical judgments, particularly in the matter of bad Irish accents, so I'm impressed that he liked the movie. I think he also thought more highly of the book than Richard Blandford did. I agree that the snippet you cite is a bit bunch.

Alfred Hitchcock said he preferred popular literature to classice as a source for movies because a classic was irretrievably the author's own.

February 13, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter,
I don't know how familiar your are with Cyril Cusack, the driver in the movie. He's one of those character actors you might see often without knowing his name. Wikipedia has a list of his better known roles. I'm sure you'll recognize a lot of them:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyril_Cusack

Have you seen Harold and Maude? Not a great movie but it has one hilarious scene.

February 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read while preparing this post that a number of actors who had small, even non-speaking parts in Odd Man Out went on to later success.

I have not seen Harold and Maude.

February 13, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

'a bit bunch'

I was arrogant enough to think I had a reasonably good command of English but the above phrase left me completely bamboozled.

February 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mmm, a noisy environment, the distraction of a bit of work I didn't want to do, a small keyboard, the cafe closing -- it all must have been a bit much. Sorry to have bamboozled you.

February 13, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Too late, Peter. From now on anything I dislike is going to be a bit bunch. Many things I can think of but your blog isn't one of them.

Those v-words are a bit bunch, though. The current one is ingsymoo. The damn things seem to be getting worse.

February 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I quite like "bunch," and I have had some evocative v-words. I can do nothing with my current one, though: striumf

February 14, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love The Third Man. Thanks for the heads up on James Mason in Belfast, going to netflix it right now!

Cara

February 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hope you like the movie, and I'll be interested in your report on James Mason's accent, which is part Irish and part James Mason.

February 14, 2010  

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