Odds Against Tomorrow (1959): Robert Wise’s Noir Crime, Written by Polonski, Starring Robert Ryan, Harry Belafonte, Ed Begley, and Shelley Winters

Before he became the director of big-budget, Oscar-winning Hollywood musicals (West Side Story in 1961; The Sound of Music in 1965), Robert Wise had made some interesting movies that were sharply focused and character-driven, shot in black-and-white in standard aspect ratio.

In 1959, he produced and directed the film noir, Odds Against Tomorrow, written by Abraham Polonsky, based on a novel of the same name by William P. McGivern. As is known, Polonsky was blacklisted, and as one of the “Hollywood Ten,” he had to use a front.  John O. Killens was formally credited, and Polonsky’s name was finally restored as late as 1996.

Odds Against Tomorrow
Odds Against Tomorrow(1959 film) poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Ed Begley plays David Burke, a former policeman, who’s ruined when he refuses to cooperate with state crime investigators. He asks Earl Slater (Robert Ryan), a hard-bitten, racist ex-con, to help him rob a bank, promising $50,000 if the robbery is successful, knowing that he’s supported by his girlfriend, Lorry (Shelley Winters).

Burke also recruits Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte), a nightclub entertainer, who is addicted to gambling and is in deep debts. When Slater learns that Ingram is black, he refuses the job, but later on he changes his mind.

Burke, caught in the scene of the raid, is mortally wounded in a shootout with the police, thereupon he commits suicide to avoid prison. Tensions between Ingram and Slater rise, and they begin fighting each other.

Escaping into a nearby fuel storage depot, they chase each other onto the top of the tanks, which ignite when they exchange gunfire. Ironically, after the explosion, their burned corpses become indistinguishable.

The movie’s last image of a sign at the fuel storage depot, “Stop, Dead End,” bears both literal and figurative meanings.

The secondary cast includes Gloria Grahame as Slater’s neighbor and Cicely Tyson (uncredited) as a jazz club bartender.

The sharp editing is by the brilliant Dede Allen.

Cast
Harry Belafonte as Ingram
Robert Ryan as Slater
Shelley Winters as Lorry
Ed Begley as Burke
Gloria Grahame as Helen
Will Kuluva as Bacco
Kim Hamilton as Ruth
Mae Barnes as Annie
Richard Bright as Coco
Carmen De Lavallade as Kitty
Lew Gallo as Moriarty
Lois Thorne as Eadie
Wayne Rogers Soldier in bar
Zohra Lampert as Girl in Bar
Allen Nourse as Police Chief
Cicely Tyson as Jazz Club Bartender (uncredited)
Mel Stewart as Hotel Juno Elevator Operator (uncredited)
Robert Earl Jones as Jazz Club Patron (uncredited)
Ron Becks as Carousel Boy (uncredited)

Credits

Produced and directed by Robert Wise
Screenplay by Abraham Polonsky and Nelson Gidding, based on the novel Odds Against Tomorrow by William P. McGivern
Music by John Lewis
Cinematography: Joseph C. Brun
Edited by Dede Allen
Production company: HarBel Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release date: October 15, 1959
Running time: 95 minutes