Saturday 4 November 2023

Movie Review: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Robert Wise
Starring: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Ed Begley, Shelley Winters, Gloria Grahame
Running Time: 95 minutes

Synopsis: Disgraced ex-cop Burke (Ed Begley) recruits ex-con Slater (Robert Ryan) and indebted gambling addict Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) for a bank robbery job. Slater is unhappily attached to Lorry (Shirley Winters) and eyeing neighbour Helen (Gloria Grahame). Johnny is under pressure to repay his debts while trying to be a father to a young daughter and attempting to win back ex-wife Ruth (Kim Hamilton). Slater is a racist and resents partnering with the black Johnny for the robbery, but desperation forces them together.

What Works Well: A commitment to deep character focus results in an engrossing human-centred crime drama. Director Robert Wise and writer Abraham Polonsky (blacklisted at the time) adapt the William P. McGivern novel with emphasis on emotional despair and inner demons driving men to crime. Johnny is a flawed but sympathetic nightclub performer trying to be a family man, but even the more despicable Slater is rounded into a full-fledged person, thanks to a lived-in Robert Ryan performance. Wise uses close quarters and close-ups to convey hardship, complemented by exceptionally crisp cinematography (courtesy of Joseph C. Brun) and an evocative John Lewis jazz score.

What Does Not Work As Well: The wait for the actual heist is quite long, and once it arrives, it's a slipshod mess of non-planning and animosity.

Conclusion: A portrait of the men behind the crimes that rarely pay.

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