This week in The Best of Film Noir we’re looking at a great movie, Odds Against Tomorrow. This great movie has the distinction of being the first film noir with a black protagonist, Harry Belafonte. This is a heist that has gone wrong, as an ex-cop needs two accomplices to pull off the job. It may be one of the best movies with this plot. Also starring Ed Begley, Shelley Winters, Gloria Grahame, and Robert Ryan, Odds Against Tomorrow has been overlooked, but it is well worth watching.
The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Anti-Hero
Robert Ryan plays Earle Slater, a hateful racist veteran who does not like his black cohort, Harry Belafonte. Ryan gives a wonderful performance, essentially a noir anti-hero in Odds Against Tomorrow. Slater hates being supported by his girlfriend (Shelley Winters), and the heist is his way out. We see and feel Slater’s fear, loneliness, hatred, and his sense of hopelessness. It is interesting to note that in real life Ryan was a compassionate activist who supported such causes as the ACLU.
The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Hero
Harry Belafonte plays Johnny Ingram, a black gambler. Because he is deeply in debt and getting pressure to pay off his loans, Ingram accepts the job. But tensions arise between Ingram and the racist Slater. Both Slater and Ingram are angry men, and both feel trapped by their circumstances. By the end of the film, their roles have kind of switched, where we see Ingram as more the noir hero than Slater.
The Best of Film Noir – The Femme Fatale
We don’t necessarily have a strong femme fatale, the woman who ultimately proves the downfall of the noir hero. We do, however, have wonderful performances by Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame. Winters plays Lorry, Slater’s girlfriend and his supporter. Yet Slater can’t support her, and she becomes the object of his frustration. Grahame has a small role as a young mother who happens to be the neighbor of Slater. She is attracted to the violence and the seduction scene is handled brilliantly, getting around the Production Code, yet still seething with eroticism. Both deserve credit for adding to the overall greatness of the movie.
The Best of Film Noir – The Direction
Robert Wise directed Odds Against Tomorrow, and Wise does an outstanding job of making the setting, New York City, noir. The city is now haunting, and yet it has a beauty about it. Wise is quoted (in AFI) as saying that he used infra-red film to get a certain quality in such scenes as the opening sequence, where Robert Ryan is walking down West Side Street. It leaves us with a definite noir feel. Wise is credited with making a film that builds great tension to an incredible climax. He achieved a unique thing: creating a crime drama that is also a statement on racism.
The Best of Film Noir – The Screenplay
Abe Polonsky wrote the screenplay, taken from William P. McGivern’s story. But Polonsky added to the characterizations, and wrote a more violent ending, one without any sentiment. However, most would say that Polonsky gave some of the characters (especially Ingram) more depth than they had in the book. Another note of interest: Polonsky had wanted to make a film about the African-American experience, but he had been blacklisted (because of HUAC) so the credits read John O. Killens. It wasn’t until 1996 that he received proper credit for writing the screenplay for Odds Against Tomorrow.
Robert Wise directed other film noir (The Set-Up, 1949), but many believe this to be Wise’s best noir. And alongside Touch of Evil, Odds Against Tomorrow is considered the last in the classic film noir era.
The Best of Film Noir – Odds Against Tomorrow Trivia
IMDb has some great trivia about Odds Against Tomorrow. Here are a few things I thought were interesting:
Early in the film when Johnny gives Burke a ride downtown he parks directly behind a 1958 Chevrolet. In the next shot, Burke is out of Johnny’s car. The parked car in front is now a 1959 Chevrolet.
As Robert Ryan first drives the souped up Chevy wagon, we hear him grind the gears. Later, as we watch the speedometer climb to 100 MPH, we see the left side of the Powerglide shift quadrant on the steering column. Automatic transmissions don’t make gear grinding noises (I would’ve never caught this one :)).
When Johnny is rudely interrupting a female singer, she says Harry, please, using Belafonte’s real name instead of his character’s name.
So grab your treats (popcorn, right :)) and sit down for a great film noir, a lost classic, Odds Against Tomorrow.
Check out The Maltese Felon, Reed Ferguson’s latest adventure.
5 Star Review
Reed Ferguson is the newest cool detective on the bookshelves. Reed is the best kind of detective; he’s one of us. He hasn’t got massive muscles and wields a gun with ease. He takes a licking, but keeps on ticking. He uses good old fashion brains to solve cases. This is a great series that I am sure will garner many fans and hopefully we’ll be reading for years to come.
About The Reed Ferguson Mystery Series
Reed is a wannabe private eye who loves film noir and crime fiction, and these mystery novels are consistently well-reviewed. The second in the series Reel Estate Rip-off, and the short story Elvis And The Sports Card Cheat, are great additions to your library.
5 Star Review
There is little doubt that Renée Pawlish is a promising new voice to the comic murder/mystery genre. Quite noticeable…is Pawlish’s adept development of the plot coupled with her ability to contrive clear, concise and playful prose with almost perfect pacing.
Norman Goldman, Bookpleasures Publisher and Editor (Amazon top reviewer)