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Film / Odds Against Tomorrow

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Odds Against Tomorrow is a 1959 Film Noir produced and directed by Robert Wise, starring Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, and Ed Begley with Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame in supporting roles. The film is often acknowledged as one of the very last films to appear in the classic noir cycle, and is notable for a plot with a heavy dose of commentary on racism.

David Burke (Begley) is a disgraced, aged ex-cop whose career was destroyed when he refused to cooperate with state crime investigators. To get himself back in money, he has planned a heist against a small-town bank in upstate New York. To help him with the robbery itself, recruits Earl Slater (Ryan), a hard-bitten, racist, ex-con Southerner. For another part of the plan, Burke needs someone who can play the role of a "colored" deliveryman to distract the guards. For this part, he recruits the improvised nightclub entertainer and Gambling Addict, Johnny Ingram (Belafonte). Ingram doesn't want the job, but reluctantly agrees as his gambling problem has left him deeply in debt to the notorious mobster, Bacco. When the trio comes together, Slater is none too happy to discover that he will be working alongside a black man, and the rising racial tensions between him and Ingram soon threaten to derail the criminal enterprise.


This film contains examples of:

  • All Are Equal in Death: Quite literally, actually. Because Slater and Ingram managed to kill each other by inadvertently blowing up the fuel depot they were inside during their firefight, both of their bodies have been burned to unrecognizable crisps, and the police coroner must report that he has no immediate way of telling the two corpses apart.
  • Angry Black Man: Ingram has some elements of this, as when he accuses his estranged wife of kissing up to her "big white brothers" on their daughter's behalf:
    Ingram: Drink enough tea with them and stay out of the watermelon patch, and maybe our little colored girl'll 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. Don't you ever let me catch you teaching Eadie to suck up to those...
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  • Anti-Hero: There is no question that Ingram is the most sympathetic member of the trio, as Burke has (unbeknownst to him) pulled some strings to pressure him into partaking in the heist, and Slater constantly antagonises him simply for being black, but he is definitely also a deeply flawed person, who beside his gambling problems also proves to have a rather unstable temperament.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Burke, finding himself wounded during a shoot-out with the police, decides to commit suicide, rather than allowing the police to capture him.
  • Betty and Veronica: Lorry, Slater's wife, who tries to makes him move beyond his criminal past and find honest employment and worries about his well-being is the Betty; his neighbor Helen, the Femme Fatale who is more excited by his darker side and said criminal past, is the Veronica.
  • The Caper: A deconstruction. Burke's plan ends up as an utter mess because of Slater antagonizing the short-tempered Ingram.
  • Femme Fatale: Slater's neighbor Helen, with whom he has an affair as she finds his stories about his criminal past rather exciting, in contrast to his wife Lorry who tries to make him find an honest job.
  • Forced into Evil: Ingram has no interest in the heist to begin with, as he — despite how bad his current situation looks — wants to stay on the right side of the law. But eventually, as Bacco lays on the pressure to get his money back from him, he gives in and reluctantly joins Burke and Slater.
  • Death by Racism: Slater doesn't survive the story; but then again, neither does Ingram.
  • Dirty Cop: Burke used to be this. He was fired and left disgraced as a result.
  • Kill 'Em All: Neither Burke, Slater, nor Ingram survives the heist. The first commits suicide when finding himself injured and cornered by the police, and the latter two ending up performing a Mutual Kill on each other.
  • Mutual Kill: Slater and Ingram ends up killing each other by starting a fire fight in a fuel depot.
  • One Last Job: What Slater plans the heist to be. It ends up killing him.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The heist is an utter failure and the three would-be robbers die in the end, the latter two by each other's hands.
  • A Simple Plan: Which ultimately goes belly-up because of Slater's racism.
  • Trapped by Gambling Debts: A reluctant Ingram takes the job because the gangster he owes money to is turning up the heat. Unbeknownst to him, Burke knows the gangster and the increased pressure is a ploy to manipulate him.
  • Uptown Girl: Ingram's wife, Ruth, whom he is separated from, is firmly embedded in the local middle-class life, while he is struggling to make ends meet. It is also the main reason why they are separated.