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Odds Against Tomorrow
Odds Against Tomorrow
Actors: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Shelley Winters, Ed Begley
Director: Robert Wise
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense, African American Cinema
NR     2003     1hr 36min

Nerve-snapping tension, gritty style and an unsparing look at racial tension unite in this 'thunderbolt of a film (Los Angeles Examiner) from four-time OscarĀ(r) winner* Robert Wise and writers Abraham Polonsky and Nelson...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Shelley Winters, Ed Begley
Director: Robert Wise
Creators: Harry Belafonte, Robert Wise, Phil Stein, Abraham Polonsky, John O. Killens, Nelson Gidding, William P. McGivern
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense, African American Cinema
Sub-Genres: Classics, Mystery & Suspense, African American Cinema
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
Format: DVD - Black and White - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 12/02/2003
Original Release Date: 10/15/1959
Theatrical Release Date: 10/15/1959
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 36min
Screens: Black and White
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 9
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
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Movie Reviews

A Forgotten Gem | Venice, CA United States | 07/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Odds Against Tomorrow" was recommended to me by Netflix, based on some of the other films I rented recently. I had never even heard of the film before but am glad that I saw it.

Dave Burke (Ed Begley, "12 Angry Men"), a disgraced former cop now living in a dingy one-bedroom apartment, asks Earle Slater (Robert Ryan, "The Professionals"), a bigoted white Southerner recently moved to New York, to meet him. Earle is anxious to get some money of his own; he doesn't want to depend on his girlfriend (Shelly Winters) for financial support. Dave's plan is to rob a bank in Melton, a small town in upstate New York. He assures Earle that the plan is foolproof, like snatching candy from a baby, and will net each of them at least $50,000. (The film was made in 1958.) Earle doesn't want to have anything to do with it. Dave then meets with the other member of the group, Johnny (Harry Belafonte), a singer with a small jazz group. After hearing the plan, Johnny also passes. But events in the lives of Earle and Johnny conspire against them, forcing them to take part. When they meet, racial conflicts arise threatening the job and their lives.

Directed by Robert Wise ("The Day The Earth Stood Still", "The Sound of Music"), "Odds Against Tomorrow" is not really the crime drama it is billed as, which is a surprise and benefits the film greatly. Almost two thirds of the film is about the lives of the two central characters, Earle and Johnny. Because so much time is devoted to them, we really get a sense of who they are, we get to know them, and they become real.

The film was produced by Harbel Productions, a production company owned by Harry Belafonte. It is easy to see why he was so interested in the project. Produced in the late 50s, "Tomorrow" uses the story of a bank robbery as a vehicle to tell the tale of two men and their racial conflict. This seems a more effective way of getting the message across; gradually introducing it, creating characters, letting their conflict seep into the storyline. So often, films with `morals' or `messages' make these all encompassing, beating the viewer over the head. Think back to your school days. If a teacher assigned a book like "To Kill A Mockingbird" to you, it probably felt like you had to struggle through every word. If you discovered it on your own, you probably realized what an outstanding piece of literature it is. The same is true of film, perhaps even more so. If we enjoy the film, the story, the setting, are interested in the characters, we are probably more likely to retain any messages or morals the film might be trying to convey.

Earle is the first person we meet and he immediately uses a racial slur. This is shocking and unexpected, more so because of the delivery and the circumstances, robbing the scene of artificial theatricality. Ryan's portrayal of Earle is very interesting; on the one hand, he is a deeply bigoted man, on the other; he is in a very dysfunctional relationship. The dysfunctional relationship with his girlfriend, Lorry (Shelly Winters) balances out the occasional outbursts his character displays.

After we meet Earle and Lorry, we witness how their relationship works. She is desperate to love him, but recognizes that he is also flawed. She wants him to have the independence a job and an income of his own would grant him. But since he doesn't, she isn't above asking him to pick up her dress at the dry cleaners. She is working a job and he isn't. Why shouldn't he help out with the errands? There is also a next door neighbor (Gloria Graham), a lonely woman who flirts incessantly with Earle.

Johnny (Belafonte) is also created with a vividness we often don't see in films. A member of a jazz combo, there is almost a feeling that if he didn't have all of the extraneous influences on his life he might be a famous singer. (Gee, that's a stretch.) But Belafonte brings a quiet earnestness to the role which helps the character become three dimensional. Johnny is divorced, but still very much in love with his wife, and still very involved in her life due to their daughter. He spends as much time with his daughter as possible, taking her to parks, merry go rounds, the like. He loves his ex-wife, but is a little bothered by her attempts to become assimilated with the mostly white PTA of their daughter's school. Their relationship is difficult, but it is evident that each still holds feelings for the other.

As Johnny's life becomes influenced by elements at the nightclub, everything becomes increasingly unsettled; he is an alcoholic, using liquor to quell his problems, he is a gambler, always hoping for the next horse to win big, to settle his loses. But his bookie becomes anxious and this ends up working to Johnny's disadvantage.

After we spend a significant amount of time with each of the characters, we can see the noose tightening around each of their necks, forcing them to take part in Dave's plan.

When they eventually make the journey to Melton, the film becomes a more traditional heist film. This part also works well because Wise takes great pains to make the setting and place very realistic. We have all seen small towns like Melton and know of the large central bank, where all of the tellers know all of the customers. Dave learns of a kink in the system which they intend to take full advantage of.

Robert Wise directed some of the most popular films of our time, yet people aren't aware of him as much as they are aware of other film directors. I think the key to this is that Wise directed a wide range of films, covering many genres and other directors became famous for concentrating in a particular area. Wise has directed science fiction ("The Day The Earth Stood Still"), musicals ("West Side Story", "The Sound of Music"), horror ("The Haunting", a film and book which both still give me chills), drama ("Executive Suite") and of course, crime dramas. Did you know that he started out as a sound editor working on "Top Hat" and "The Gay Divorcee", two of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers best films? Then he moved on to film editing, working on "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons" with Orson Welles. A pretty impressive pedigree. It seems a shame that a film director who worked in a variety of genres should be remembered less well because of this. More film directors would benefit from working on a series of different films. Wise is a director worth remembering, a director who made a series of very impressive, very memorable films.

"Odds Against Tomorrow" is a forgotten gem. Check it out.
Robert Wise's Invisible Oscar
Vincent Tesi | Brick, New Jersey | 06/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Director Robert Wise is probably most identified with his two Oscar winning musicals, West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Wise's Odds Against Tomorrow, a 1959 film produced at the end of the noir cycle should have earned him his first Oscar, but that year Ben Hur's eleven Academy Awards left little in the wake of cinematic honors. Odds Against Tomorrow may have been slighted by the Academy and the box office, but it unassumingly remains as one of the first films to address racism towards blacks in American society. Wise's casting of African American Harry Belafonte as Johnny Ingram and Robert Ryan as the bigot Earl Slater revealed the racial tensions that marked the social undercurrent of the 1950's. Odds Against Tomorrow may have been an emblematic precursor to the racial violence that exploded into the consciousness of mainstream America during the 1960's. The film's plot is structured around a planned bank hiest involving a retired police detective (Ed Begley), a gambling, jazz musician (Belafonte) and a psychotic loner (Ryan). The three protagonists are drawn together by the lure of money; each thinking that a big score will erase the haunting failures of their past. Unlike other noir films in which lust, greed, or deception caused a downward spiral for the protagonist, our trio's well devised plan unravels from within. Earl's seething malevolence and resentment towards Johnny causes the caper to disintegrate. James Coburn deservedly won an Oscar for his role as an alcoholic, abusive father in Affliction; Ryan's portrayal of an emotionally unstable, violent, racist is equally noteworthy. Noir critics cite the Richard Widmark characterizations of Tommy Udo and Alec Stiles as the most devious, psychotic criminals to shock film audiences; but it is Ryan armed only with a cold stare and a few callous words who could really bring burning hatred to a violent boil. In Odds Against Tomorrow, Ryan's scenes in the tavern, elevator, and gas station, are but a few glimpses into the mind of an unstable, dangerous man. Shelly Winters is cast as the insecure loner who desperately smothers Earl with love that is not returned. Gloria Grahame appears as the strange apartment neighbor who inexplicably is drawn to the abusive Earl. Director Wise craftfully places characters in scenes that drip with realism. The mob boss, the homosexual henchman, the bartender, the black elevator operator, and Jonny's estranged wife create a multi-dimensional atmosphere that does not distract from the central flow of events. Wise's camera work is exceptional as he allows viewers quick images of hallways, city streets, and concrete highrises. The opening shot of a fire hydrant on a desolate street corner which is suddenly invaded by wind swept newspaper is chilling. Wise is also not adverse to draw his camera away from city settings where noir scenery could easily be captured. Instead he mixes urban concrete and smokey club interiors with panned shots of open highways and cold Novemember landscapes dotted with leafless trees. Wise also contrasts the concepts of day and night into the picture's climax. Not constrained within the limits of shadows, darkness, and night, which characterize most noir films, Wise utilizes the impending nightfall as a scenic metaphor. Odds Against Tomorrow is one of the greatest noir pictures ever made. It may have been the last exemplar of screen noir in American film making."
Mark Norvell | HOUSTON | 12/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Excellent, hardbitten crime drama brilliantly directed by Robert Wise about three men planning a bank robbery. Ex-cop Burke (Ed Begley) recruits bitter, aging racist Earl Slater (Robert Ryan) and urban jazz muscian/singer Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) for the big heist. The money will change and better all of their lives for different reasons. Ingram especially, as he's indebted to a brutal gangster with his gambling debts. Burke is hopelessly enthusiastic but Slater and Ingram are skeptical and don't trust each other because of Slater's blatant racism towards Ingram. As the tension of the planning of the robbery mounts, so does the antagonism between the two men. That such ignorance should exist between people who have the same goal is intelligently played out with a realistic script. Belafonte, Ryan and Begley give convincing performances as do Shelley Winters, Gloria Grahame and Kim Hamilton as the women in Slater's and Ingram's lives. Haunting b&w photography expresses the bleak and depressing world of the men and the individual anxieties experienced by each. A smoky jazz club, stark city streets, cramped apartments, the stares of strangers---all contribute to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film. The tense, moody jazz score underlies the tense feeling that something is going to go horribly wrong. When it does, the brewing hatred between Slater and Ingram finally and (literally) explodes. Don't miss this exciting film if you like good, gritty adult noir crime dramas. The DVD is a good print and you can't beat the price."
The transition from pure film noir to drama
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 03/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Not quite the last film noir--that honor would probably go to either or both of Blast of Silence (1961, Allan Baron) or Underground USA (Samuel Fuller, also 1961)--this Robert Wise-directed 1959 movie fuses racial issues into its crime story and pulls it off really well. Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte go head to head in a heist that's planned by old retiree Ed Begley in one of his better roles; he gives just the right juice to his portrait of a bitter cop who's out to even the score.

Ryan is, as usual, terrific in his role. What's interesting about him is that in real life, he was the exact antithesis of the roles he often played, which were nasty brutal men full of hatred, cynicism, and the urge to kill. Ryan was actually a leftist, one of the first organizers of the Ban the Bomb movement in the 60s out in California. Knowing that, it's absolutely fascinating to see him portray a vicious racist in this film who, as well, gets it on with his sleazy neighbor played by none other than Gloria Grahame, sleaze queen of film noir.

Belafonte is a revelation here. This and his role in Robert Altman's Kansas City, decades later, will probably be seen as his best. Here, dressed in shades and turtleneck, he epitomizes cool, but is in deep s**t, owing a chunk of change in gambling debts. He's got every reason to join up with Begley for the heist of a bank in upstate New York, a so-called easy score.

Heists in film noir never go off as planned and this is no exception. While some of the elements here are standard noir fare (old embittered cop, heist that goes wrong), the addition of the theme of racism, as well as the brilliant acting, sets this apart from a bunch of other similar films. Odds Against Tomorrow can be perceived as a transitional film in the film noir canon, seamlessly bridging the gap from pure noir to social drama, a staple of 50s and 60s film. In that it does a great job.

Director Robert Wise, interestingly, started off his career working with Val Lewton in the great horror series typified by such films as I Walked with a Zombie and Cat People. Wise directed Curse of the Cat People and Body Snatcher in this series, then graduated to Westerns (Blood on the Moon) and film noir (Born to Kill, Odds Against Tomorrow). This last film was a transitional point; he then moved on to big budget productions like The Haunting, West Side Story, and Sound of Music. Odds Against Tomorrow is definitely some of his best work; this is a tightly plotted, crisply executed film whose actors get the whole picture and do a great job.

Great piece of film noir and at the current price, a real steal. Excellent addition to your film noir DVD collection."