Nick and his partner Al stage a payroll holdup. Al is shot and Nick kills a policeman. Nick hides out at a public pool, where he meets Peg Dobbs. They go back to her apartment and he forces her family to hide him from the police manhunt.
Because aging boxer Bill Thompson always lost his past fights, his corrupt manager, without telling Thompson, takes bribes from a betting gangster, to ensure Thompson's pre-arranged dive-loss in the next match.
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>
The score was written by The Modern Jazz Quartet's pianist, John Lewis. One of the cues, the self-explanatory "Skating in Central Park," became a regular part of the MJQ's repertoire, and was also reused for a similar scene in "Little Murders" (1971). See more »
As Robert Ryan first drives the souped up Chevy wagon, we hear him grind the gears. Later, as we watch the speedometer climb to 100 MPH, we see the left side of the Powerglide shift quadrant on the steering column. Automatic transmissions don't make gear grinding noises. See more »
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.
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