Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), produced and directed by Robert Wise.

Three desperate New York men try a simple bank heist upstate in a little town on the Hudson. It is planned by a disgraced ex-police officer; he ought to know how to make it work, right?

As always, it is not so simple. As always, they bring their defeat with them.

This is a great entry in the genre, with real locations and the gritty city feel. We have a doomed sense of men getting pulled into the caper, and a fine quiet segment on the last day, just waiting for night to fall so they can get to work.

Looking at the IMDB: writer James Ellroy called it "just the best heist-gone-wrong movie ever made". Director Jean-Pierre Melville (Bob le Flambeur (1956), Le Samouraï (1967), Le Cercle Rouge (1970)) owned a 35mm print and watched it over 80 times.

Our cast:

For all of them it is not just about the money, but about self-respect, the last chance to regain control over their lives. At the climax when the caper has failed it is still not about the money, or even survival, but race hatred and blind revenge.

Director Wise is listed as a producer, but the film was financed by Belafonte's own production company. This no doubt contributes to the rich set of black characters and more than usual time spent with their stories. He also produced The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959).

Robert Ryan has two women in his life: wife Shelley Winters and neighbor across the hall Gloria Grahame.

We have blunt and bitter sex talk:

quote

Shelly Winters: You know I care about only one thing.

Robert Ryan: Sure. But what happens when I get old?

Shelly Winters: You're old now! Go to hell!

And equally blunt and bitter race talk:

quote

Harry Belafonte: For what? To hold hands with those ofay friends of yours? [...] You and your big white brothers. Drink enough tea with them and stay out of the watermelon patch, and maybe our little colored girl will grow up to be Miss America, is that it? [...] Why don't you wise up, Ruth? It's their world and we're just living in it.

I've seen "ofay" in books but can't remember another use in film. It was supplanted by "honkey" and today you are more likely to hear "cracker".

Notes:

Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films. I don't see any attempt at restoration and we have some modest print damage. It is still a worthy upgrade over the DVD, which was 4:3 open matte, with the same coverage on the sides and extra headroom. This is the first time I have seen it in the correct aspect ratio.

There has been some confusion about this: Wise said he intended a "standard aspect ratio" presentation, but he meant 1.85:1, not the older 1.37 "Academy Ratio". There was similar confusion during the transition of home video from 4:3 to 16:9 displays, when younger people presumed "fullscreen" to mean the latter and older people the former.

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