Odds Against Tomorrow
Though his career spanned many decades and genres, Robert Ryan is best remembered for his work in noir. With his lined face, and the appearance of indifferent ethics no matter what side of the law he was on, his characters in this genre were always torn between their morals perhaps best personified in the violent but pained Jim Wilson in 1952's On Dangerous Ground. In Robert Wise's 1959 film Odds Against Tomorrow, Ryan plays a similarly mixed character in Earl Slater. A two-time loser who can't work because of his criminal background, Slater wants to make it on his own to support his girl Lorry (Shelley Winters), but he's also a racist who balks at ex-cop Dave Burke's plan to rob a bank with musician Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte). Burke (Ed Begley) also needs the money, as does Ingram, who's down for more than seven grand in gambling debts. Ingram and Slater can't stand each other, though both take the job anyway, setting a tone of failure from the start. As much as Odds Against Tomorrow is about the heist which will inevitably turn bad, as it must the film focuses most on the characters' daily lives as they try to get by. Slater's torn because he both loves and despises Lorry, since she has to provide for them both; in petty revenge over his supposed impotence, he seduces his all-to-willing neighbor Helen (Gloria Grahame), who she wants to hear about the time he murdered someone. In their two scenes together, Grahame exhibits why she's another one of the noir greats. Ingram agrees to the heist because he's trying to make good for his ex-wife and their daughter, though he's still maintaining his playboy lifestyle while being hounded by the mobster he owes. Written by Abraham Polonsky (who used the credited John O. Killens as his nom de plume) the film offers the scenarist's poetically skewed dialogue as seen in Force of Evil and Body and Soul that takes some getting used to but is exceptionally smart. But though it's engaging because of its great cast, Odds Against Tomorrow's character-drawn narrative deprives the conclusion of the fatalistic punch of a great noir picture, playing up the racial polemics without satisfying the heist elements as strongly. MGM presents the film in full frame (1.33:1) with monaural DD 2.0 audio and optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles. Keep-case.