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Dave Burke is looking to hire two men to assist him in a bank raid: Earle Slater, a white ex-convict, and Johnny Ingram, a black gambler. Both are reluctant; but Burke arranges for Ingram's creditors to put pressure on him, while Slater feels humiliated by his failure to provide for his girlfriend; they eventually accept. But Slater loathes and despises blacks, and the tensions in the gang rapidly mount. Written by
David Levene <D.S.Levene@durham.ac.uk>
Odds Against Tomorrow is a decent, somewhat unimaginative crime picture with a message. It's mostly about three man who plan a robbery, and their reasons why. Robert Wise directed, and Harry Belafonte was the star-producer. There's an unfortunate air of deja vu about the picture, as this kind of story had become all too common by the time it was made. Indeed, director Robert Wise had made crime movies before, and had worked with Robert Ryan before, too, on the excellent The Set-Up. This one was filmed mostly on location in New York, and nicely reflects life at the lower but not quite lowest depths of that city.
It's worth seeing for the acting, which is good much of the time, and on occasion excellent. Belafonte's performance as a compulsive gambler is pleasingly cool and refined, like everything he does. I found it difficult to accept him as a loser, though. He seemed too good looking. There's a sharp rather than forlorn edge to him, and had a white actor been cast instead it would have been someone like Jack Klugman. His miscasting not withstanding, Belafonte manages to more than hold his own with his co-stars, not, I would imagine, an easy thing to do. Robert Ryan is the sociopath of the piece, and he'd perhaps been down this road once too often. In his peak years,--the late forties and early fifties--Ryan was one of the best bad men in the movies. He's still pretty good here, but a bit long in the tooth to be punching out Wayne Rogers in a bar, since he's old enough to be Rogers' father. Ryan aged badly, and his somewhat dissipated look makes him less intimidating than he ought to be. The key to his character's nastiness is his racism, which is laid on a bit heavy at times. Why this Southern redneck is living in a city where he is surrounded by the kinds of people he despises is never made clear. I wish it had been.
What saved the movie for me is Ed Begley's performance as the ex-cop who plans the robbery. Begley was one of the best American actors in the business at this time. He was for various personal reasons a late bloomer, and he didn't come into his own in films and on television until he was well into his fifties. He shows here a keen understanding of the sort of man toward whom life has been cruel, personally and professionally, and he gives a performance, smart and without a trace of self-pity, worthy of Eugene O'Neill. His work is vastly superior to the film itself, and he makes the movie worth seeing. Begley was one of a handful of actors who could singlehandedly make a film come alive, and who made too few movies worthy of him. While certain gifted actors,--John Malkovich, Tommy Lee Jones--get more than their share of opportunities to shine, Begley belongs to the group that got too few chances. I think of Sam Jaffe, Laird Cregar and James Anderson, actors whom I would like to have seen do many more films than they made. Begley makes this one worth seeing, and he singlehandedly lifts it up in quality, almost to the level of tragedy.
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