Odds Against Tomorrow (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Jan 15, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Odds Against Tomorrow (Blu-ray Review)


Robert Wise

Release Date(s)

1959 (January 9, 2024)


HarBel Productions/United Artists (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B-

Odds Against Tomorrow (Blu-ray)

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Odds Against Tomorrow is both a crime heist drama and an allegory about the importance of men working as a team in pursuit of a common goal despite biases, diverse backgrounds, and differing motivations.

Former crooked police officer David Burke (Ed Begley, 12 Angry Men) has devised what he believes is a foolproof plan to steal $150,000 from a bank. He needs two accomplices and knows exactly the right men for the job. Not only are they both capable, they’re also in great need of cash. Earl Slater (Robert Ryan, The Wild Bunch) is a white racist ex-con whose temper has gotten him fired from one menial job after another. Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte, Island in the Sun) is a nightclub entertainer whose gambling addiction has cost him his wife and might soon cost him his life. Crucially for the heist scheme, Johnny is black.

Initially, neither of the potential accomplices are interested in the plan, which they believe is too risky. But Ingram is in debt to a loan shark for $7,500 and has no way to pay up before he faces dire consequences. He’s also in arrears on his alimony. And Slater is living with and living off girlfriend Lorry (Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun), a devoted companion and enabler who gladly works two jobs to foot the bills while Slater tries to establish himself in some kind of business.

When Slater’s outlook begins looking dim, he re-thinks Burke’s proposition. He feels emasculated by having to sponge off his girlfriend and the instant cash is a prize he can’t resist. Meanwhile, Burke manages to arrange some breathing room for Ingram by guaranteeing his debt. Leery as they are of the job and as antagonistic as they feel toward each other, Ingram and Slater both join Burke’s scheme.

Slater wears his racism like a badge of honor, Ingram seethes at the disrespect. Burke fears their conflict could derail his carefully thought-out plans. With tensions simmering, he acts as peacemaker and convinces them that the money is more important than their feelings.

Burke explains how the robbery will go down. The bank is in an industrial town north of New York City. They will need to case the bank’s location, layout, and routines. The moment of its greatest amount of cash on hand and its greatest vulnerability is on the evening of payday, when the bank closes and the employees inventory the cash. At a specific time on those evenings, a black male waiter at a nearby restaurant delivers food to the bank at a specific doorway. Each of the three conspirators must perform his role perfectly, with impeccable timing. They’re counting on the likelihood that Johnny Ingram, in the dark of night and in the correct uniform, will be mistaken for the usual black waiter and be allowed in.

Director Robert Wise (The Sound of Music) provides this noir-ish story plenty of grit, with its desperate characters, smalltime thugs, dingy settings, and clandestine plotting. The small town can be Anytown USA and seems an easy target. How Burke focused on this particular bank is never made clear, but his passion for the project ultimately wins over Slater and Ingram.

Belafonte is excellent as an entertainer on the brink. He’s cool and collected on the outside but inwardly fears the consequences of his inability to pay his sizable debt. Well dressed, good looking, and with an innate charm, his Ingram is arrogant, self-centered, and condescending when Burke outlines the robbery plan. Only when pushed against the proverbial wall does Ingram relent.

Begley is fantastic as the fast-talking mastermind-peacemaker-participant. Older than the other men, Burke has been around and seen a lot, and this one-time heist will allow him to live out his days quietly. As he describes the plan, his enthusiasm is palpable. He’s like a kid telling about how he discovered a way to break into a carnival. More mature than the others, he’s the glue that holds the plan together.

Ryan, a veteran of lots of films noir, is right at home as Slater, a mean-spirited southerner hardened from his years behind bars. He stays with Lorry as much out of necessity as love and has developed considerable self-hatred in the process. He longs to be able to do something to make money, but not a lot of people are eager to hire ex-cons. Bitter, hateful, and proud, he feels like he has no choice but to join forces with Burke and Ingram.

Odds Against Tomorrow was shot by director of photography Joseph C. Brun on 35 mm black & white film with spherical lenses and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This edition is sourced from the same 2K remaster used for previous releases. Grayscale is quite good. Locations in a wintry New York City give the film atmosphere. The picture is clear and sharp for the most part. Occasional light white vertical scratches begin at the 23:50 point but are not major distractions. Details such as furnishings in Lorry’s apartment, buildings, the lounge where Johnny works, and street scenes in the small town are well delineated. High-angle shots are used periodically to establish the hubbub of the City, and a few shots use the zoom to focus attention on key details, such as the side door of the bank. Interiors feature natural lighting and no typical film noir shadows across walls and faces appear.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Optional English subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and precise throughout. Belafonte sings in his role as entertainer Johnny Ingram. The music, by Modern Jazz Quartet director and pianist John Lewis, gives the film a driving tension as the plot develops.

Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Author/Historian Alan K. Rode
  • Post Screening Q&A with Star/Producer Harry Belafonte: Chicago – August 1, 2009 (49:15)
  • Post Screening Q&A with Actress Kim Hamilton, Parts 1: Los Angeles – April 13, 2007 (9:25)
  • Post Screening Q&A with Actress Kim Hamilton, Parts 2: Los Angeles – April 13, 2007 (9:57)
  • Trailer (3:05)
  • Lonelyhearts Trailer (2:20)
  • Day of the Outlaw Trailer (2:08)
  • Human Desire Trailer (1:57)
  • Naked Alibi Trailer (2:18)
  • He Ran All the Way Trailer (2:14)
  • The Night of the Hunter Trailer (1:37)
  • I Want to Live! Trailer (2:12)
  • The Killing Trailer (1:49)

Audio Commentary – The film version of Odds Against Tomorrow differs from the novel. Director Robert Wise had no qualms about working with blacklisted screenwriter Abraham Polonsky. Certain words were removed from the script, though one use of the “N” word was retained. Slater referring to a young African American girl as a “pickaninny” establishes him as a racist early in the film. Robert Ryan had the ability to project “rage and angst” on screen and was a good fit for the role of Slater, who’s a kept man and doesn’t like it. Ryan initially turned down the role because it was similar to other parts he’d played. Ed Begley’s film resume is mentioned. He turned in top-notch performances in everything he did. Author William P. McGivern, a southerner, had five of his novels adapted into films because they’re rich in characterization. Harry Belafonte formed his own company—Harbel—because of unpleasant experience making The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Harbel produced Odds Against Tomorrow, and Belafonte asked Polonsky to tweak the character of Johnny Ingram as written by McGivern. Belafonte regarded his company as one that could negotiate with studios on equal terms. Many major southern cities refused to show Belafonte’s earlier film Island in the Sun because of the relationship between Belafonte and Joan Fontaine, who received hate mail. Belafonte’s successful music career and his dedication to the civil rights movement are documented. Shelley Winters had played several bit parts as a dumb floozy until graduating to more substantial roles. She won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for The Diary of Anne Frank. As she aged, her career blossomed. Interiors were filmed at the Gold Medal Studios in the Bronx. The money mentioned in the film—$150,000—is equivalent to half a million dollars today. Odds Against Tomorrow uses “classic noir tropes of a bank heist to portray the American race situation during the Jim Crow era in a stark manner that had not been attempted previously.”

Post Screening Q&A With Actress Kim Hamilton, Parts 1 & 2 – Recorded in Los Angeles on April 13, 2007, this interview is conducted by film historian Alan K. Rode. Hamilton speaks about how she got the role of Ruth in Odds Against Tomorrow. She discusses Robert Wise’s style of directing and credits him with allowing her to develop the role. Harry Belafonte treated her very well during production. She tells several anecdotes about the making of the movie, noting she wasn’t aware that blacklisted Abraham Polonsky wrote the film’s script. She talks about appearing on stage in A Raisin in the Sun in London and discusses other films in which she appeared, including The Leech Woman and To Kill a Mockingbird. She speaks about being married to actor Werner Klemperer, studying acting with Jeff Corey, and appearing in The Twilight Zone episode The Big Tall Wish. Much of her later work involved guest appearances on many TV series.

Odds Against Tomorrow is sometimes regarded as the last American film noir. It benefits from a superb cast and a solid story. Director Robert Wise allows us to get to know each of the principal characters, a mix of volatile personalities under pressure. The film not only chronicles the lead-up to the bank robbery but the aftermath as well. The ending, an overly melodramatic nod to a famous gangster film of the previous decade, metaphorically comments on the destructive nature of racism.

- Dennis Seuling