This 1947 British classic was directed by Carol Reed (The Third Man, 1949) and starred James Mason (the Desert Rats, 1953). The story is based on the book by F.L. Green. The movie is about the impact on the lives of all those around Johnny McQueen (Mason). The film is set in a Northern Irish city, pick one of the two…and revolves around McQueen as he tries to survive a botched raid. The movie does not explicitly name any organisation just the “Organisation” . McQueen is a leading figure in the Organisation and having been lying low for about six months following his prison escape he has been ordered to execute a raid to raise funds. The film is set against the background of post-war Britain.
The remains of the war are all around and rationing is still in place. The scene is dark and broody, the movie has a classic British Noir feel. The shadows are there and contain menace. Is his heart in it? From what we can gather, he is a changed man since his time in prison, so much so that one of his team asks if he should be on the raid. We learn that McQueen is a person of some worth in Republican circles. The raid fails. McQueen injured and already on the run, must find safety on the streets of the city. As he scrambles for help he must hide in those corners, the snug of a crowded bar, air-shelter, where ever he can. All the time there is one person looking to help him, Kathleen ( Kathleen Ryan, Captain Boycott, 1947) the woman in whose house he has been hiding. She has fallen in love with him and will go to any lengths to protect him.
This is a classic crime thriller, given the republican/political edge. What is certainly noteworthy is the attention to detail employed by Reed. He manages to side step the larger political issue to concentrate on the person aspects of the situation, whether it be through the dynamic with McQueen and his gang members, the police, the women or even Fr. Tom (W.G. Fay, London Town, 1946). The hunt builds to the violent climax. All the time during the hunt we are conflicted, however abhorrent his background, we are constantly drawn to McQueen and his plight, will he escape, will he survive? What makes this film is the characterisation, Mason is supported by what was largely the members of the Abbey Theatre, the Irish National Theatre, and before you say “so what” we need to remember the Abbey provided such cast members as Cyril Cusack who played gang member Pat and Dan O’Herlihy (Fail Safe, 1964) being fellow gang member “Nolan”. Other cast members included legendary William Hartnell who went on to be the first to play the historic role of The Doctor in Dr. Who ©
We follow McQueen has he slowly and painfully descends to the final showdown with the police. Can a good man do evil, what drives him, can an evil man do good?