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>
In some scenes, Robert Wise used infra-red film to give them a slightly distorted feel. See more »
Ryan and Begley in car enroute to case the place which they plan to rob, are seen going southbound on NYC's Harlem River Drive towards Manhattan. In next scene, Begley says to Ryan, "...it's about 100 miles up the Hudson..." They are going in the wrong direction for upstate NY. See more »
[after Slater insults Ingram]
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?
Well I'm with you, Dave. Like you said, it's just one role of the dice, doesn't matter what color they are. So's they come up seven.
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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