Odds Against Tomorrow

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW, a striking piece of film noir crime capering, showed up as the genre was winding down, and despite strong reviews did just lukewarm box office in 1959, a $1,800,000 gross leaving it stewing at 121st place for the year. Adapted from a novel written the year before by William P. McGivern, it’s expertly directed by Robert Wise, co-producing with star Harry Belafonte, who picked blacklisted Abraham Polonsky to write the script. It was fronted through crediting novelist John O. Killens. Nelson Giddings contributed as well. *

I spoil everything. I can’t help it. I just have to spoil it.

Disgraced ex-cop ‘Dave Burke’ (Ed Begley) recruits two other guys who badly need money to help him pull a “foolproof” bank robbery in the small upstate New York town of ‘Melton’. Easy as pie, except his partners can’t stand each other. Nightclub entertainer ‘Johnny Ingram’ (Belafonte) owes gambling debts to a hood, which is bad enough, but working with ex-con ‘Earle Slater’ (Robert Ryan) won’t be easy: Slater’s a vicious racist with an explosive temper.

Belafonte’s acting had improved considerably from his one-note work on Island In The Sun. Ryan and Begley are superb. Each characterization has depth, and there are good turns from Shelley Winters as Ryan’s put-upon wife and Gloria Grahame as the neighbor he messes with on the sly. From the first, the film is steeped in tension.

Wise used the project to try something he’d mused over for years, getting cinematographer Joseph C. Brun to use infra-red film for some sequences to highlight mood: it’s subtly done and very effective. Jazz pianist/composer John Lewis provides a moody score.

The well-picked supporting cast has some nice surprises. As a soldier in a bar who makes a mistake by picking a fight with Ryan, Wayne Rogers, 25, makes his first feature appearance,13 years before he’d mask up for M*A*S*H.  Playing a smarmy enforcer, Richard Bright, 21, also nails his debut,13 years before his ‘Al Neri’ closed the door on ‘Kay’ in The Godfather  Look for a quick glimpse of Cicely Tyson, uncredited, as a bar patron.

Shot in New York City, and in the town of Hudson, 120 miles upriver. With Will Kuluva, Kim Hamilton, Lew Gallo, Mel Stewart, Mae Barnes, Robert Earl Jones, Carmen de Lavallade, Diana Sands Zohra Lampert, Barney Martin and Bill Zuckert. A tight 95 minutes, with a finale that ‘Cody Jarrett’ would approve of.

* Author William P. McGivern had a thing for writing about lawmen breaking the law: movies made from his work include The Big Heat, Shield For Murder and Rogue Cop.

Harbel Productions was formed out of Belafonte’s ire over the stereotyped roles he was offered. The company’s other project that year, also starring him, The World, The Flesh and The Devil, likewise underperformed, and Harbel ceased operations. Belafonte wouldn’t appear in a movie for another 11 years, concentrating instead on his singing career and his social and political activism.

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