"Odd Man Out" is the rare movie classic that grows more relevant and compelling with every passing year. Director Carol Reed plants the seeds of a harrowing destiny in the opening minutes. After escaping from prison and lying low for months in a cramped rowhouse, the chief of Northern Ireland's revolutionary "Organization," Johnny McQueen ( James Mason), coolly plots a payroll robbery. But something goes wrong in his head. The street rises and falls before him -- it seems to track into his brain. The buildings tower over him with vertiginous force. The sunlight confuses and dizzies him, and even after the job, he grows faint and hesitates. A chaotic exchange of shots leaves a company man dead and Johnny too seriously wounded to hang on to the speeding getaway car. At a point where most movies would climax, this one begins. This harrowing story of police pursuit concentrates on the souls of the fugitive and the men and women who briefly harbor but cannot heal or succor him. It makes Johnny's search for salvation the source of gut-clenching suspense. The movie climbs to peak intensity not during shootouts or close calls, but when Johnny rouses himself to quote 1 Corinthians: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not Charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." It's one of the screen's resounding tragedies. Johnny's pangs and twinges during the heist aren't merely physical or psychological; they bespeak his troubled conscience about terrorism. Afterward, with his own life hanging by a frayed strand, his main concern is whether he killed a man. When he discovers that he did, his moral wound is as debilitating as his mortal one. What makes the movie almost unbearably poignant is that Johnny, as he's dying, is stumbling toward transcendence. Cinematographer Robert Krasker fills his nightscapes with wraithlike shadows and dazzling illuminations. Draping Reed's people in mists or spotting them in streetlights and headlamps, outlining them in doorways or profiling them against window shades, he conjures an atmosphere that a viewer's eyes sift through excitedly. Through it all, Mason crawls and crumples his way to immortality. He manages to give a passionate performance as a man who must measure his life in heartbeats.
"Oliver Twist," 1948
"Oliver Twist" is the epitome of bravura visual storytelling. From the movie's stormy prologue to its climactic rooftop chase, David Lean propels Dickens' tale of a crime-buffeted orphan with stylized sequences that connect in electric arcs. He surrounds his limpid, poignant Oliver (John Howard Davies) with an alternately terrifying and delightful rogues' gallery, including Robert Newton as Bill Sikes and a young Anthony Newley as the Artful Dodger. This movie's influence on Carol Reed's great 1968 movie musical "Oliver!" is evident when Alec Guinness, a magnificently scurvy Fagin, transforms a pickpocketing lesson into a comic ballet.