Monday, March 29, 2010

Turner Classic Movies: Odds Against Tomorrow

Ed here: I watched this last night, thought the TCM summary said it best.

Odds Against Tomorrow

Three men - an embittered ex-con (Robert Ryan), a former cop (Ed Begley) who was fired from the force for illegal activities, and a chronic gambler (Harry Belafonte) - try to change their lousy lot in life by forming a partnership in crime. But a plan to heist a payroll from a small-town bank in upstate New York is doomed from the start because of the racial tensions within the group.

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) is often acknowledged as one of the last films to appear in the film noir cycle which reached its height in the post-World War II era. However, this crime thriller is much more complex than the standard genre entry. While it's certainly gritty and downbeat in the best noir tradition, it also works as an allegory about greed as well as a cautionary tale about man's propensity for self-destruction. Financed by Harry Belafonte's own company, Harbel Productions, Odds Against Tomorrow allowed Belafonte to exercise complete creative control over the film's conception and to handpick an expert cast and crew to bring his project to the screen. In an article in the New York Times, Belafonte said, "The character I play is not thrown in for a racial thesis, but because the bank robbers - played by Ed Begley and Robert Ryan - need a Negro who can enter the bank as a colored delivery man. While Robert Ryan hates the Negro, it is not merely a racial antagonism. He hates everybody, and the Negro is no stereotype of sweetness and light either. No brotherly love saves everyone here. Their hatred destroys them both."

Robert Ryan gives one of his finest performances here as the pathetic, venom-spewing racist Earle Slater. Off screen, Ryan was a compassionate activist who was committed to such liberal causes as SANE and the ACLU but on-screen he was often cast as angry, misanthropic characters who occasionally expressed themselves through violence. Crossfire (1947), Beware, My Lovely, and On Dangerous Ground (both 1952) are probably the best examples of this typecasting. Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame also have minor supporting roles in Odds Against Tomorrow but while their scenes are brief, they both make indelible impressions. You can also spot Cicely Tyson, Wayne Rogers, and Zohra Zampert in tiny roles.

Odds Against Tomorrow was filmed on location in a small town in the Hudson River Valley, New York City, and at the Gold Medal Studios in the Bronx. Director Robert Wise completed the film between his Oscar-winning productions of I Want to Live! (1958) and West Side Story (1961). The screenplay was written by Nelson Giddens, blacklisted writer Abraham Polonsky (who wasn't allowed to accept an onscreen credit until 1968), and black novelist John O. Killens, who later penned the revisionist antebellum drama Slaves (1969). The latter film also provided work for former blacklist victims, director Herbert J. Biberman and his wife, actress Gale Sondergaard. The moody, evocative jazz score is by John Lewis, the pianist for the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Director: Robert Wise
Producer: Robert Wise, Phil Stein (associate)
Screenplay: Abraham Polonsky, Nelson Gidding, John O. Killens, William McGivern (novel)
Cinematography: Joseph C. Brun
Music: John Lewis
Art Direction: Leo Kertz
Principle Cast: Harry Belafonte (Johnny Ingram), Robert Ryan (Earl Slater), Shelley Winters (Lorry), Ed Begley (Dave Burke), Gloria Grahame (Helen), Will Kuluva (Bacco), Kim Hamilton (Ruth Ingram)


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Todd Mason said...

Spammers aside, I'd sugest that TCM might want to consider that William P. McGivern probably deserves more credit than as an afterthought...though I suppose I'm first among equals there, as I've still not read the novel...but the film is clearly set in an unnamed Philadelphia, McGivern's hometown, up to that most Over the Top ending of any crime drama I've yet seen.

A little more note of the score by John Lewis, who enlisted his Modern Jazz Quartet cronies and more (Bill Evans on piano, for oen) to play the soundtrack, would also be good.

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