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Good low budget heist film. Ryan's character is one of the ugliest portrayals of a white racist in film. Belafonte's character is one of the most multi-faceted and complex potrayals of an African American up until that time, and the performance doesn't date at all. Wise keeps the pacing taut and the suspense high. There's great black and white location shooting in New York City and upstate in Hudson, New York. Other things of interest: it's written by black-listed Abraham Polonsky under a pseudonym (check out his great "Force of Evil"); Cicely Tyson appears in a bit part; Richard Bright portrays a pretty overt homosexual for the time; early use of a zoom lens and infrared photography; edited by Dede Allen; some interiors shot at the old Gold Medal Studios in the Bronx.
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.
Bigotry undermines this unholy trio's effort to execute the ultimate robbery. The actors whipped up for this illegal exercise are played by Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan and Ed Begley. The volatile chemistry between the three desperate fellows fuels this bleak film noir from the late Fifties. Once again, there is some gorgeous on location photography in Manhattan, especially Central Park. Fine Jazz and Calypso music are served up at the smoky club where Belafonte works. Crooked camera angles and cluttered set direction contribute nicely to a claustrophobic atmosphere. The apartment building where Begley resides has a weird elevator that has multiple exit doors as well as an operator who likes to talk about the wind piercing the elevator shaft. The dames--Gloria Grahame and Shelly Winters--are rough but warm around the edges. Wayne Rogers makes his debut in a small role as a braggart in a bar. Stick around for the killer final and be blown away.
Nowadays Robert Wise has been restored to critical favor.It was about
time.An eclectic talent,he tackled sci-fi (the day the earth stood
still),musicals (west side story) ,social topics (I want to live),film noir
(this one),horror("haunting" is better than any horror film I can think
of).He invented the movie "in real time":"the set-up" occurred more than ten
years before "Cleo de 5 à 7".
"Odds against tomorrow" is one of these films that seems better today than before.Influenced by John Huston (the asphalt jungle),it did influence French director Jean-Pierre Melville(le samouraï,le cercle rouge).Wise's movie represents the twilight of film noir,the dead end (check the last picture),the terminus of the genre.
It's the story of a hold-up,but action aficionados will not be satisfied.Wise wants to communicate a whole context,he wants to detail his characters to a fault.How many directors would dare that today?Robert Ryan's part is very complex.First he seems friendly,but further acquaintance shows a lack of self-confidence (he's getting old,he's a washout,he wants to go for broke) .And he is a racist.Rarely,this obnoxious feeling has been depicted with such wit.Why is he so?No answer,no explanation,he's racist,period.The ending which I will not reveal of course demonstrates (watch out for the two last lines of dialogue,they are simply fantastic!),the absurdity of this cancer of our societies.Harry Belafonte is on a par with Ryan:he's a gambler down on his luck,and he,too,is enduring personal turmoil:his wife wants to break off communication with him,not only because he lives in a dangerous world,but,because he sticks with his black brothers(the songs in the cabaret are telling;and the way Belafonte uses the xylophone as drums is too)This wife ,like Sarah-Jane in "imitation of life" (released the same year),is dreaming of a "white" life.Their couple is doomed whatever they may do.Ed Begley,always smiling,beaming ,is the threesome's troubleshooter.In his own way,he seems wise (no joke intended),the good guy that wants to retire after the hold-up.
Then,just before the action scenes,suddenly,the earth stands still(again,no joke intended)The atmosphere becomes unusual,poetic,almost pastoral:Belafonte watches the river flow and finds a broken doll in the sludge:he certainly thinks of this life he could have lived with his little girl.Besides,children shots frame the movie as a symbol of a long gone innocence;at the beginning,Ryan meets some on them on his way to Begley's flat;and just before the bank scene,some of them are playing cops and robbers with toy revolvers.While Belafonte is wandering along the river,Begley looks at a statue (a Christ?)and reads a strange and sadly unprophetic inscription carved into the stone.Ryan watches a rabbit,he aims at it,we hear a shot:it's only a tin can.
THe hold-up does not interest Wise.Like the true auteurs,it reduces it to another event,not more important than Ryan's fight with the soldier. And all these pastoral vignettes echo to the urban,almost abstract set where the drama is resolved.There's something apocalyptic here,recalling Walsh's "White heat",the main difference being that James Cagney's character was psychotic and Ryan's and Belafonte's are "ordinary".
This peak of the film noir ,not necessary appealing because drifting too far from the shores of gangsters' paraphernalia,should not be missed.Like most of Wise's movies ,it will still improve with time.
Odds Against Tomorrow is a sharp little Black-and-White noir caper
movie. Robert Ryan is very good as a southern accented hateful bigot.
He's teamed with the sharp dressed, compulsive gambler Harry Belafonte.
Belafonte financed the movie. No doubt that's why the bouncy jazz
soundtrack is so good. The movie's pairing of the two builds to an
explosive finale following the heist that goes about as wrong as it
could. Also starring Ed Begley is the leader of the gang. He's also
excellent as the one man keeping the caper on track and keeping the two
crooks from killing each other.
Here's what Begley says after one of Ryan's racial slurs:
"Don't beat out that Civil War jazz here, Slater! We're all in this together, each man equal. And we're taking care of each other. It's one big play, our one and only chance to grab stakes forever. And I don't want to hear what your grandpappy thought on the old farm down in Oklahoma! You got it?"
A worthwhile caper for fans of noir or Belafonte.
Influenced by the more comic The Asphalt Jungle
Oscar-winning director Robert Wise ("West Side Story", "The Sound of Music") directs Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters and Ed Begley to masterful performances in this grounbreaking, revelatory film. Earl Slater (Ryan) is a bigoted small-time petty thief with a supportive but hapless live-in lover (Winters). Johnny Ingram (Belafonte) is a down on his luck hustler/drummer who gets involved with a bank robbery scheme with Dave Burke (Begley). Slater is also in on the heist, but must come to terms with his racist views with Ingram in order to pull off the plan. This is an incredibly clear-eyed, no holds barred look at the kind of segregation that was alive at the time, with superb performances by all, including Gloria Grahame as Ryan and Winters' love-starved neighbor, Helen, and Kim Hamilton as Belafonte's ex-wife, Ruth. The film dosen't resort to theatrics to build its tension; that comes naturally, due to excellent ensemble work by the cast, a great jazz score by John Lewis and Joseph C. Brun's gritty camerawork. An influential, brilliant film, not to be missed. ***1/2
This is one of my favourite American crime movies. It sits right in the
middle between John Huston's "Asphalt Jungle" and William Friedkin's "The
French Connection" probably the two all time best of the police/caper
In "Asphalt Jungle", the suave Alonzo Emmerich says that crime is a left handed kind of human endeavour. And this describes exactly what the three guys in this movie are doing. There is even a scene that looks like a reference to that statement as Ed Begley's character is staring at a monument with the weird inscription to the effect that every man should do what his hands are capable of doing. Robert Ryan plays a kind of a brother of the Sterling Hayden character in "Asphalt Jungle", an embittered farmer's son from Kentucky who could not make it in this world, has no prospects and sees the bank robbery as his last chance. There is no doubt that Ryan was a far more talented actor than Hayden, he gives his character real depth, you almost feel sorry for him although that character is really disgusting.
"Odds against tomorrow" precedes "The French Connection" with its truly breathtaking documentary style photography, the use of music and sound effects to heighten the tension (the soundtrack is just terrific, Harry Belafontes talents were put to good use in a very sensible way) and in the way the characters are shown just waiting out in the cold.
It is really a film about men in winter, where there is no hope left. Great care was taken to make all the three main characters human beings with real feelings. In this aspect the ending really is disappointing it seems to belong to an other movie, its symbolism does not fit in at all and gives the aspect of racism an importance that in this story it does not really possess. The racism of the Ryan character seems like a pretext he was so miserable, he just needed somebody to hate, it could have been any particular group of living beings.
Robert Wise's Odds Against Tomorrow grinds along to an inevitable conclusion, but offers a great performance by Ed Begley as Dave Burke, an ageing ex con looking to set up one last job. Filmed in black and white in winter in New York (both the city and a small-town upstate venue where the bank is) it has a drabness that permeates the whole film. Robert Ryan plays racist small-timer Earle Slater, who must team up with Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) a jazz singer/vibraphonist who owes gambling debts to mobster Bacco played by Will Kuluva. Shelley Winters plays Slater's girlfriend Lorrie, a lonely woman with a steady job trying to buy his affection. Their relationship is based more on mutual need than love, her for sex and him for the money and company. Begley as Dave Burke must referee between his two cohorts. The racial tension between Slater and Ingram is carried to the extreme, and in the end it is what does in the heist. The subdued jazzy musical score combined with the bleak photography make this one moody movie. While the ending for Begley is pure drama, for Ryan and Belafonte it is too ironic for its own good, a clear example of the so-called message interfering with the plot, or maybe the message was the plot.
This is one of my favorite noir films. I don't like the ending much but
I do like everything else.
I have to disagree with an earlier reviewer who said the bank job failed due to luck instead of a poorly thought out or executed plan. The job failed for one reason. Earl Slater. Slater didn't give Ingram the keys to the getaway's car. Think about it. Ingram was wisely selected by Burke to get the car after the heist for a reason. Ingram was the only one of the three who could leave the bank and not arouse much attention. He was dressed in a waiter uniform and the waiter had a reason (delivering coffee) for going to the bank after hours. The plan fell apart when the cop saw Burke come out of the bank. He didn't have a good reason for being in the bank at night and he was dressed like a hunter. This also leads to Ingram and Slater not being able to escape the scene using the car because Slater gave Burke the keys.
It was Slater's bigotry which screwed up the plan. Although Burke should have never chosen Slater in the first place. He knew Slater was a bigot. Anyway, a good B-movie Noir produced by Harry Belafonte.
Harry Belafonte produced and starred in "Odds Against Tomorrow," a 1959
film also starring Robert Ryan, Ed Begley, Gloria Grahame, and Shelley
Winters and directed by Robert Wise. It's a depressing story of a bunch
of losers who team up for what is supposed to be an easy robbery. For
all of them it represents a last chance.
A gritty, black and white film that takes place on lonely streets, barren roads, cheap apartments, and cheap night clubs, what makes it interesting is that at the end, there is very little dialogue and a big "Top of the world, ma," finish that is both splashy and ironic.
Other than that, it's routine stuff. Robert Ryan plays his usual cruel, deeply prejudiced wacko with an itchy trigger finger. Is it my imagination, or did his characters just get meaner as he aged? Other than John the Baptist, that is. Supposedly, he was a wonderful man - it's amazing that these roles didn't get to him after a while. The story goes that while he was at RKO, the scripts for the year would be delivered at the annual Christmas party. Ryan would take half and Mitchum the other half. Somehow Ryan always ended up with the monsters. Winters is his clinging, desperate wife - also nothing new there, and Grahame is the horny neighbor. Not exactly a departure.
Belafonte, a brilliant musical performer, gets to belt out a couple in the nightclub where his compulsive gambler character works. I have to agree with one of the comments - he's just too handsome and classy to be considered part of this bunch. If the character had been cast as a white man, would we have expected to see some hunk or a character actor? His performance is very good, however, as a man who believes it's a white man's world, and he's sick of playing by their rules.
Ed Begley is terrific as the seedy old man who puts the plan together but picks two people who are at terrible odds with one another. Which didn't give very good odds against tomorrow.
Worth seeing for the actors and the exciting ending.
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