That's the duty of all of us.
Johnny McQueen is an IRA leader who breaks out of prison and for 6 months hides out at the house of adoring Kathleen. Here he plots a robbery of a Belfast mill to fund his underground organisation, the robbery doesn't go to plan and Johnny kills a man in a struggle outside the mill, he himself is shot and fails to make the getaway with his accomplices...
If ever there was a film that defines the statement of film on canvass then this is it, it's a gorgeous piece of work relying on striking imagery and dialogue driven smartness to realise the demise of Johnny McQueen. We watch (and listen intensely) as Johnny lurches through the back streets of Belfast knowing he is dying, he has most of the city looking for him, be it the law, or friends, or those that want to cash in on him, his destiny is not so much carved in stone, but more like written in blood in the snow.
The amazing feeling I got with this film is that I felt like I was dying as well, and I think that is one of the film's great strengths, director Carol Reed and cinematographer Robert Krasker put you into the mindset of McQueen, the doom hangs heavy, the distortion and hallucinogenic free fall for the last reel hangs heavy on the viewer, it's a stifling masterclass. Some of the shots are beautiful, especially once the snow starts to fall to accentuate the Victorian backdrops, but consistently we also get moist and misty cobbled streets lit by gas lamps, providing moody shadows of humans and buildings alike. While Krasker offers up his photographic atmospherics, Reed excels with scenes such as portraits forming together in front of McQueen, or faces appearing in spilled beer bubbles; images wrung out of McQueen's feverish mind.
James Mason as Mcqueen is brilliant, and yet he doesn't get long periods of dialogue here, the script doesn't call for it, yet the performance is simply wonderful, with just one look of desperation Mason acts out of the top draw. There are a number of great characters in the film, like borderline insane artist Lukey (a bountiful turn from Robert Newton), or bum for a pound Shell (F.J. McCormick), no character is merely a walk on part, they all add weight to this clinically structured piece of work. The score by William Alwyn is right on the money and integral to realising the film's thematic heart, and the ending is noir nirvana, it took me 5 minutes to digest it fully during the close credits. A haunting and poetic piece of work, that rare old beast that is bleakly beautiful. 9/10