Olive Films Blu-ray Review: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

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Wanting something and needing it fast is a trait often attributable to male leads in American movies but – whether planning a heist or offing their lover's husband – it's safe to say that men in Film Noir pictures are an altogether different breed.

Willing to do whatever it takes after they zero in on what they need, the men in director Robert Wise's largely overlooked, stylish 1959 feature Odds Against Tomorrow are no exception. And this is perhaps best epitomized in a scene where Robert Ryan's racist, domineering screw-loose lead barrels down the road on his way to rob a bank, driving 110 miles-per-hour with his eyes closed towards the film's literal and metaphorical dead end.

Closer to the work of Sam Fuller than Fritz Lang, Wise's odd, thought-provoking, atmospheric effort works best as an allegory about racism and masculinity filtered through the lens of Film Noir.

Occasionally using an infra-red camera to create “black skies with white clouds” and change the look and feel of certain scenes including our introduction to Robert Ryan's WWII vet and ex-con Earl Slater, similar to the way that the screenplay employs creative call backs to lines in earlier scenes to give them a brand new read, Robert Wise does the same thing with Tomorrow’s editing and cinematography.

The first major film to be edited by Dede Allen, who would change the craft forever less than a decade later in Bonnie and Clyde, in Odds Against Tomorrow, you can see her experiment with the jump cuts that would serve her so well in Dog Day Afternoon as well as Bonnie and Clyde.

Shot by Edge of the City's Joseph C. Brun, from the film's use of quick cuts to get us into Slater's lonely, paranoiac frame-of-mind to some to others that took my breath away in their artistry as pigeons flew off like a shot just as two of the film's heavies meet, Odds looks better than ever in this new high definition Blu-ray release from Olive Films.

Based on William P. McGivern's novel of the same name, although producer and star Harry Belafonte tapped the blacklisted Abraham Polonsky to pen the script, the two had to use Belafonte's novelist friend John O. Killens as its credited front for thirty-seven years until Polonsky's name was rightfully restored.

Singing a few lively numbers (and banging the hell out of a xylophone), the ever-charming Belafonte serves as a terrific foil to Ryan's Slater as gambler Johnny Ingram.

Up to his eyeballs in debt, although he initially turns down mutual friend Dave Burke (Ed Begley) on his offer to rob a bank alongside the bigoted Slater, once his ex-wife and daughter are threatened, Ingram quickly changes his mind, even though he knows it's sure to end in tragedy.

Co-starring dynamic scene-stealers Shelly Winters and Gloria Grahame, there's an interesting sequence revolving around sexual invitation and the idea of a locked or unlocked door – that moves from lovingly romantic to frighteningly manic – which takes on additional meaning as the film continues and we learn that the robbery's success or failure all hinges on the chain of a door lock.

Composed and conducted by the Modern Jazz Quartet's John Lewis, the film's hit soundtrack album had more staying power than Wise's riveting, bold film, especially compared to the work that was to come from The Sound of Music director. Thankfully its long overdue Blu-ray release from Olive Films serves up a much needed second chance to discover a forgotten classic that Noir lovers in particular are sure to want.

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