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Odds Against Tomorrow is a 1959 film noir produced and directed by Robert Wise for HarBel Productions, a company founded by the film's star, Harry Belafonte. Belafonte selected Abraham Polonsky to write the script, which is based on a novel by William P. McGivern. As a blacklisted writer Polonsky used a front, John O. Killens, a black novelist and friend of Belafonte's. In 1996, the Writers Guild of America restored Polonsky's credit under his real name.

Odds Against Tomorrow is the first noir with a black protagonist. It was the last time Wise shot black and white film in the standard aspect ratio, which "gave his films the gritty realism they were known for".


The drama tells of David Burke (Ed Begley), a former policeman ruined when he refused to cooperate with State Crime Investigators. He has asked hard-bitten, racist ex-con Earl Slater (Robert Ryan) to rob an upstate bank with him, promising him $50,000 if the robbery is successful. Burke also recruits Johnny Ingram (Belafonte), a nightclub entertainer who doesn’t want the job but who is addicted to gambling and is in debt.

Slater, who is supported by his girlfriend, Lorry (Shelley Winters), finds out Ingram is black and refuses the job but, realizing he needs the money, later joins Ingram and Burke in the enterprise.

Tensions between Ingram and Slater increase as they near completion of the crime, leading to an explosive climax.


The film features the film debut of Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John McIntyre in the 1972 television series M*A*S*H.


Principal photography began in March 1959. All outdoor scenes were shot in New York Citymarker and Hudson, New Yorkmarker. According to director Robert Wise:
I did something in Odds Against Tomorrow I'd been wanting to do in some pictures but hadn't had the chance. I wanted a certain kind of mood in some sequences, such as the opening when Robert Ryan is walking down West Side Street...I used infra-red film. You have to be very careful with that because it turns green things white, and you can't get too close on people's faces. It does distort them but gives that wonderful quality—black skies with white clouds—and it changes the feeling and look of the scenes.


Composer John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, contributed the film's jazz score,played by an orchestra that included Milt Jackson on vibraphone, Percy Heath on bass, Connie Kay on drums, Bill Evans on piano, and Jim Hall on guitar.

Critical reception

Bosley Crowther called Wise's direction "tight and strong" and the film a "sharp, hard, suspenseful melodrama" with a "sheer dramatic build-up ... of an artistic caliber that is rarely achieved on the screen."

Time magazine wrote, "The tension builds well to the climax—thanks partly to Director Robert Wise (I Want to Live!), partly to an able Negro scriptwriter named John O. Killens, but mostly to Actor Ryan, a menace who can look bullets and smile sulphuric acid. But the tension is released too soon—and much too trickily. The spectator is left with a feeling that is aptly expressed in the final frame of the film, when the camera focuses on a street sign that reads: STOP—DEAD END."

Variety said "On one level, Odds against Tomorrow is a taut crime melodrama. On another, it is an allegory about racism, greed and man's propensity for self-destruction. Not altogether successful in the second category, it still succeeds on its first."

Forty years after its release, Stephen Holden called the film "sadly overlooked."


The film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Golden Globe Award for Motion Picture Promoting International Understanding, losing at the 17th Golden Globe Awards to The Diary Of Anne Frank.


A screenplay book, Odds Against Tomorrow: A Critical Edition (ISBN 0963582348), was published in 1999 by The Center for Telecommunication Studies, a university press sponsored by the Radio-TV-Film Department at California State University, Northridgemarker (CSUN). The book includes the film's complete script (which "blends" the shooting script and the continuity script), and critical analysis, written by CSUN professor John Schultheiss, based on interviews with Wise, Belafonte and Polonsky.

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