Noir

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 9: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

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Odds Against Tomorrow is directed by Robert Wise and it was one of two films to be produced by Harry Belafonte’s own production company – HarBel Productions.

This is a film that I love very much. I recently treated myself and bought it on Blu-ray. I highly recommend that you purchase it in that format as it looks fantastic, there are some great extras too.

This is a taut, atmospheric, and gritty film about desperate people doing desperate things in order to survive. The film also takes a hard-hitting look at racism too.  The final shot shows the stupidity of racism(and other prejudices) because we are all the same, we are all humans trying to live and when we die it doesn’t matter what skin colour, sexual orientation, gender etc we are, as we are all equally dead and are the same in death. So what the hell are we wasting time fighting for when we are alive?

As the film goes along we also see that Belafonte and Ryan’s characters are more similar than disimilar, both in terms of their struggles and in their mutual run of bad luck.

The film was shot out on location in New York, and for me this helps to give the film a realistic feel. In terms of the atmosphere this film creates it really reminds me of Sweet Smell Of Success.

Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan both deliver two of the best performances of their respective acting careers. They are both excellent as the two tightly wound men edging ever closer to their respective breaking points.

Both Belafonte and Ryan make us care about their characters and convey to us how frustrated they are with their respective situations. Both tell us much about their characters simply by an expression, or by the way they respond to something someone says to them.

This film was quite daring for the time it was made in because it showed black and white people as being the same; they both have good times and bad, they have the same problems and have the same hopes and dreams too.

Despite their hatred for one another, Earle and Johnny are actually very similar men. We can tell these are just two broken, lonely and essentially decent guys just trying to survive and get by doing what they have to. Both men love their wives very much and are trying to make a better life for their families.

Dave Burke (Ed Begley)is a bitter ex detective who is living a pretty crummy life. He has planned what sounds like a perfect bank robbery. He just needs two people to help him do the job. He enlists embittered, WW2 veteran and ruthless killer, Earle Slater (Robert Ryan)and heavily in debt, gambling singer Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) to help him. Each man stands to get $50,000.

The robbery should be pretty simple, but Johnny and Earle’s mutual hatred of each other causes tension and chaos. Earle is openly racist and Johnny is not one to stand by and just take that foul rubbish lying down, he returns the hatred and Earle doesn’t like it.  It all leads to a tense and violent finale.

 

The main trio of Ryan, Belafonte and Begley are all excellent. Begley is another actor in this who tells you much with just an expression or glance. I believe from the way he reacts to racist comments that his character, David, is not a racist, and that is an interesting angle to the film. David is shown to be friends with Johnny and they have known each other for years. David doesn’t like Earle’s attitude and is shown to be disgusted by Earle’s words.

Belafonte plays Johnny as a tightly wound man who has got where he has in the world due to his own success and failure. There are times when he wants to say something to people giving him grief, but stops himself knowing there will be trouble. I love the nightclub sequence where his eyes show the undisguised hatred he feels for the gangster he is heavily in debt to.

Ryan plays Earle like a ticking time bomb. This man has a temper on a real short fuse. He feels less of a man due to his dire situation and thinks money will make him something more. Keep your eye on Ryan throughout and you will see him on edge, just waiting to unleash his pent up anger on anyone who happens to be around.

Shelley Winters, Kim Hamilton and Gloria Grahame play the dames in the lives of Earle and Johnny.

Kim is Ruth, Johnny’s ex wife and mother of his adored daughter. Ruth loves him but cannot take his lifestyle nor his hatred of white people, and blaming them for things. Ruth will always love him but she can’t be with him anymore.

Shelley is Earle’s much younger wife Lorry, she loves him dearly and with her he can be vulnerable and himself. It is in scenes with her that we see his tender and gentle nature.

Gloria is Helen, a friend of Lorry’s who lives in the flat above theirs. She wants to be taken out of herself and treated as a woman (an escape from the drudgery of her life)she fancies Earle and he knows it. Earle has never cheated on Lorry but one night he and Helen are talking and it’s obvious to them (and certainly to us)that they are going to have sex; the tension between them is electric and they let it happen.

The actresses sadly don’t have as much to do as the men do, but they are all excellent and make an impression when they are on screen.

Keep an eye out for Richard Bright (best known for playing Michael’s loyal bodyguard Neri, in The Godfather)as a homosexual henchman of the gangster Johnny is in debt to.

Wayne Rogers (of MASH fame)also has a small role as a soldier who gets on the wrong side of Earle.

I’m always left feeling sorry for those who love and are waiting for these men to return from their date with crime – Earle and Johnny’s wives, and David’s beloved pet dog, the one thing on earth who appears to love him and who is loved in return. They all have my symapthy and I’m always left wondering what happened to them all? following the events that end this film.

My favourite scenes are the following. Johnny taking his daughter to the park. Lorry telling Earle he can borrow money from her. Johnny’s funny exchange with the elevator operator. Earle punching the soldier in the bar. The entire final 30 minutes of the film.

This story comes across as just one example of thousands more like it. We are all (whether we are men or women) trying to escape from some pain or perceived weakness, we all want a better life and we are all trying to get by. This film captures the lonelieness and problems of humanity well. It also shows us that racism is so stupid as we are all the same, can’t we make some effort to get along while we are living on this planet?

I’d also like to mention that you get to hear Harry sing a couple of times and that is an added treat. The jazz score adds greatly to the tension and atmosphere throughout.

I’d love to know what you think of this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

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