Robert Wise was often held up as and considered the antithesis to other contemporary directors of his time regarded as auteurs like Kubrick, Hitchcock et al. The theory goes that Wise was a journeyman filmmaker, who left no imprint of his own on any film he made.
Nevertheless, here we have an Oscar-winning director who was seemingly comfortable in any genre and his credits include such varied (and undisputed) classics as The Body Snatcher, The Set-Up, West Side Story, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Haunting amongst many, many others.
Odds Against Tomorrow is one of his less well-known titles but it’s one packed with talent. From stars Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan to screenwriters Nelson Gidding and Abraham Polonsky (an Oscar-nominated writer and director blacklisted at the time of this film’s release) and a soundtrack by jazz pioneer John Lewis, it’s shot through with class.
It tells the tale of embittered former policeman Ed Begley who puts together a small crew to help him rob an upstate New York bank. Sadly for Ed, he chooses reluctant, debt-ridden nightclub entertainer Belafonte and the no-good ex-con Ryan to assist him. This turns out to be a big problem for Begley as Belafonte’s Johnny Ingram is black and Ryan’s Earl Slater is a massive racist. As the film builds toward the heist, tensions between Ingram and Slater build and when the robbery happens and - as they inevitably do - goes tragically wrong, there's no happy ending.
Made in 1959 at the end of the classic noir period, Odds Against Tomorrow was filmed mostly on location in traditional stark black and white. A tough, hard film, its concerns with themes of racism and social divides were timely then. It would be great if we could believe these problems consigned to a less enlightened past but they're sadly still as relevant as ever. Those unfamiliar with thrillers of the time might be surprised at how emotionally and thematically brutal these films could be, and such is the case here. Odds Against Tomorrow is a very fine film, and comes highly recommended.
The BFI have put together a commendable package for this release. A fine transfer of the movie is supported by substantial extras - a 50-minute Q&A with Belafonte on the film from 2009, a 74-minute NFT interview with Wise from 1995 covering his entire career, an audio only NFT interview with Ryan from 1969, a newly filmed appreciation by critic Adrian Wootton and a booklet from writer Tega Okiti. Fans of classic thrillers should consider picking this one up, and if you’re a fan of the film the extras make it essential.
ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959) / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: ROBERT WISE / SCREENPLAY: ABRAHAM POLONSKY, NELSON GIDDING / STARRING: HARRY BELAFONTE, ROBERT RYAN, ED BEGLEY, GLORIA GRAHAME / RELEASE DATE: 24TH OCTOBER