Odds Against Tomorrow is a crime thriller from director Robert Wise. Dave Burke (Ed Begley) is an ex-cop looking to pull off a bank heist with the help of in-debt gambler Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) and ex-con Earle Slater (Robert Ryan). Problems arise when Slater refuses to work with Ingram due to his race and, although he finally accepts the job, his prejudices threaten to tear the trio apart.
The film may have a very simple story but its treatment of racism ensures it is way ahead of its time. While there may be plenty of films similar to this one, this isn’t an issue when you have a film as well made and put together as this. The performances and look of the film also really help it to stand out from the crowd.
While all the performances are realistic and understated, the film’s standout performance comes from Begley. He plays the role confidently and sympathetically, portraying Burke as a man given a bad hand in life who is desperately relying on the robbery to improve things for him. Belafonte plays Ingram as cool and level-headed, despite his debt problems, and provides a great contrast to the hot-headed Slater, who handles a similar situation in a completely different way. Whereas Ingram is quite matter-of-fact about his problem, losing his cool only when gangsters threaten his ex-wife and young daughter, Slater is comparatively pathetic and self-pitying. There is great range across all of the characters – three desperate men who handle their situation in completely different ways – giving this film a compelling and realistic emotional depth.
The film is incredibly well-shot in gorgeous black and white and in the 4:3 aspect ratio. It’s a very simple technique that, together with the fact that much of the film was shot on location, produces a realistic effect that you don’t get from many other films of the time.
If I was to have any issues with the film, it would be its slow start by modern standards. Although, by the end, it’s pacing was much more understandable. The film takes its time to set up all the characters, showing us the relationships between Ingram, his ex-wife and daughter and the inadequacy Slater feels as a result of his inability to provide for his girlfriend, Lorry (Shelley Winters). This all helps to make the final twenty-odd minutes some of the tensest cinema I’ve seen in a long time. My heart was racing and I found myself leaning closer to the screen with every passing second.
It all leads up to a very intense finale as the racial issues come to the forefront and, while they lack subtlety, I found the final moments to be incredibly powerful.
Odds Against Tomorrow is a film elevated above its simple story thanks to everybody involved and its remarkably progressive handling of race issues ensures its relevance today.
Dir: Robert Wise
Scr: Abraham Polonsky and Nelson Gidding
Cast: Harry Belafonte, Ed Begley, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters
Prd: Phil Stein, Robert Wise, Harry Belafonte
DOP: Joseph C.Brun
Runtime: 96 minutes
Odds Against Tomorrow will be available on Blu-Ray and DVD from October 24th