ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959) B/W 96m dir: Robert Wise
w/Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Shelley Winters, Ed Begley, Will Kuluva, Mae Barnes, Carmen, DeLavallade, Richard Bright, Lou Gallo, Fred J. Scollay, Lois Thorne, Wayne Rogers, Zohra Lampert, William Zuckert, Burt Harris, Ed Preble, Mel Stewart, Marc May, Paul Hoffman, Cicely Tyson, Robert Jones, William Adams, John Garden, Allen Nourse
A brilliant, somber caper film that concentrates on its characters rather than the "job." Ryan is a bigoted crook who accepts a shot at a big score, then balks when he finds his proposed partner is black --- classy jazzman Belafonte, who's in debt up to his ears. The subdued intensity with which director Wise explores these characters and their surroundings helps to make their problems (including the central one of race) seem more vivid, while also offering the sterling cast a number of chances to shine. Famed musician John Lewis backs it all with a progressive jazz score that lends a real edge.
From Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward: "Earl Slater, a racially prejudiced ex-cop, is asked by Dave Burke, an ex-cop who was disgracefully dismissed from the force, to join in his plan to rob a small-town bank in upstate New York. Johnny Ingram, a black singer, reluctantly joins Burke and Slater because a hoodlum named Bacco has threatened Johnny's ex-wife and small daughter with harm if he does not repay a debt soon. Everything goes wrong during the robbery. A service station attendant recognizes Earl, and Johnny is stopped as a witness to an accident; but he manages to put himself in the place of the black sales clerk who brings food and drinks into the bank at night. When the real clerk arrives, a cop wounds Burke, who cannot pass the getaway car's keys to his partners, and he kills himself rather than be arrested. Racial antagonisms come to the fore as Earl and Johnny fight, and Johnny chases Earl while both are pursued by the police to the top of some oil storage tanks. The two criminals take aim and fire at each other, igniting the tanks. The next day, someone sorting through the wreckage asks of the two corpses, 'Which is which?' and another person replies, 'Take your pick.'
"Odds Against Tomorrow, if measured in terms of its visual style, may well qualify as the last film of the noir cycle. It is a worthy descendant of the caper film series inaugurated by The Asphalt Jungle and is updated by the use of a jazz background, the inclusion of a homosexual hoodlum, and racial themes. The ending of this film recalls the climax of White Heat and is a fitting epitaph for film noir because Odds Against Tomorrow contains hints of many of the subgenres into which film noir evolved (i.e., the productions that deal with infamous gangsters, psychotic killers, racial conflicts, and other socially conscious issues). The noir look of the late 1940s and early 1950s is maintained in Odds Against Tomorrow through night-for-night location exteriors and a number of effective interior scenes featuring dark rooms modulated by the diagonal lines of venetian blinds. Gloria Grahame's performance is of the ultimate black widow femme fatale, particularly when she begs Robert Ryan to excite her before they make love by relating how it feels to kill someone.
"--- B.L. [Blake Lucas]"