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  Odds Against Tomorrow Race To The Finish
Year: 1959
Director: Robert Wise
Stars: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters, Ed Begley, Gloria Grahame, Will Kuluva, Kim Hamilton, Mae Barnes, Richard Bright, Carmen De Lavallade, Lew Gallo, Lois Thorne, Wayne Rogers, Zohra Lampert, Allen Nourse, Mel Stewart, Cicely Tyson
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Earle Slater (Robert Ryan) is in New York City to look up an old friend, but he's not the friendliest of customers himself. Negotiating some kids playing in the street he strides into the apartment block and demands to know from the receptionist which rooms Dave Burke (Ed Begley) resides in, then goes up in the elevator, also intimidating the operator there. Burke lives alone aside from a dog, and is happy to see him, because he has been largely shunned since he lost his job for police corruption and could do with the company. Another thing he could do with is money, and they discuss what sounds like the simplest heist ever; Slater tells him he'll think it over, and as he leaves the building another man enters...

That man being Harry Belafonte playing Johnny Ingram, who was instrumental in getting this film off the ground as his personal production company was behind it. Odds Against Tomorrow is often regarded as one of the last, if not the last, film noirs of the classic period before they fell out of favour and were revived decades later as neo-noir, though the heist angle spoke to the manner such dramatic thrillers would adapt their form into during the nineteen-sixties and beyond. Belafonte was keen to create a work that had strong racial elements, which may have been why Robert Ryan was hired as the bigot, as one of his most memorable roles had been in the much-respected Crossfire back in the forties.

Another reason might have been because Robert Wise had been employed to direct, a man who had emerged from that film noir grounding and whose first film at the helm had starred Ryan, The Set-Up, but whatever he was an excellent choice, since this was as much a character study as it was a heist thriller, that suspense and action aspect left to the point when the story was just about over. We followed Slater and Ingram by cutting between their stories, which could have made this look as if it was two movies stuck together, yet writer Abraham Polonsky (who was blacklisted at the time, so used another writer's name in the credits) skilfully intertwined their narratives to make it clear they shared the same part of the world whether they liked it or not.

Slater would have stubbornly refused to admit that he would have any benefit from the proximity of a black man, for he was a racist and when he finds out the third man in the robbery plan was Ingram, an African American, he is less than happy. The point that with this kind of prejudice then the nation was doomed to some particularly violent consequences, apocalyptic in this case (figuratively at least), looked forward with some foreboding to the race riots in the United States to come, making for a prescient mood in spite of this tight, focused yarn that was centred on a small group of characters, yet that interconnected nature was a strong part of the film's message. Of course, in light of how it turned out it did make it appear as if that message was to be a successful criminal, you’d best not be a dyed in the wool racist else risk self-sabotage.

But that was the territory of noir they were dealing with, and those New York City locations were starkly photographed by Joseph C. Brun that made them fascinating to look at: even with the unsavoury aspect of much of the plot and personas we were watching, this was imbued with a cool that was miles away from many of the mainstream Hollywood products of its day. Playing a nightclub performer, Belafonte made sure of opportunities to sing, which after all was what his fans expected, and he also recruited some very fine supporting actors who only needed to show their faces and you knew they had been carefully chosen, among them Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame as the two women in Slater's life, both of whom disgust him because they remind him how awful he is, Kim Hamilton as Ingram's ex-wife craving respectability in the white world, and Richard Bright as a surprisingly forthright homosexual heavy for the era. Ending with an extremely bleak joke of a punchline, Odds Against Tomorrow did err on the side of investigating the characters when highlighting the storyline wouldn't have gone amiss, but it was so engrossing you might not mind. Jazz score by John Lewis.

[Extras on the BFI Blu-ray include a lengthy conversation with Belafonte from a public screening of the film, a trailer and a booklet of essays. The print is restored and as pristine as it can be.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Robert Wise  (1914 - 2005)

Versatile American director, a former editor (he worked on Citizen Kane) who began with some great B-movies (Curse of the Cat People, The Body Snatcher, Born to Kill) and progressed to blockbusters (West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Star Trek: The Motion Picture). He won Oscars for the two musical successes.

Along the way, there were classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still, exposes like I Want to Live! and spooky gems like The Haunting. Other films include Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Sand Pebbles, Star!, The Andromeda Strain and Audrey Rose. His last film was Rooftops, another musical.

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