The BFA (as BAFTA was then known) handed out its first Best British Film at its inaugural ceremony in 1947, continuing until 1968. The award was revived in 1992, and continues to this day.
The first winner was Odd Man Out, directed by Carol Reed. Noir style films directed by Reed would take the award three years in a row, Odd Man Out followed by The Fallen Idol in 1948 and then the great British classic, The Third Man.
Odd Man Out is based on the novel by F.L. Green, and takes place during a Belfast winter. A botched robbery by a dissident group results in their wounded leader roaming the snowy streets, searching for a saviour.
This leader, Johnny McQueen, is played by James Mason, one of the all-time acting greats. While Mason’s attempts at an Irish accent wobble at times, he brings great pathos to his role as a morally complex figure fighting with eternity.
Mason would make the move to Hollywood, going on to star in classics such as A Star is Born with Judy Garland, and Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation of Lolita.
Robert Newton also has a supporting role as manic painter Lukey. While this character doesn’t add much to the plot, it is a chance for Newton to show off his eccentric talents. This would continue with his performances as Long John Silver, the inspiration for all pirates thereafter.
Carol Reed uses the shadows in the film’s chase scenes, and the techniques used for the famous sewers sequence in The Third Man can be seen here.
Director Roman Polanski cites Odd Man Out as his favourite film, stating that ‘I perpetuate the ideas of that movie in what I do’. This can be seen in the desperate isolation of his lead characters, such as Carol in Repulsion and Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby.
A 2012 documentary detailing the director’s fight against extradition for sex offences was in fact named Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out.
Odd Man Out is a film noir and British classic, part of the great successes of both its director and its performers. Next time focus will be on The Fallen Idol, the second winner at the BFA for Best British Film.