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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. This film is often acknowledged as one of the very last films to appear in the classic noir cycle, and is notable for a plot which features a heavy dose of commentary on racism.

David Burke (Begley) is an aging, disgraced former cop whose career was destroyed when he refused to cooperate with state crime investigators. To get back into some money, Burke has planned the robbery of a small-town bank in Upstate New York. To assist him with said robbery, he recruits Earl Slater (Ryan), an ill-tempered, racist ex-con from Oklahoma who is being supported – much to his humiliation – by his girlfriend Lorry (Winters); and Johnny Ingram (Belafonte), an impoverished jazz musician and Gambling Addict who doesn't wish to take part in the holdup, but reluctantly agrees to, since his losses at the racetrack have left him deeply – and dangerously – in debt to a mobster. 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" Stereotype: 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...
  • 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.
  • Death by Racism: Slater doesn't survive the story; but then again, neither does Ingram.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Coco, one of Bacco's mooks, engages in a little hostile flirting with Ingram.
  • Dirty Cop: Burke used to be this. He was fired and left disgraced as a result.
  • Downer Ending: All three main characters wind up dead.
  • Establishing Character Moment: When we're first introduced to Slater, we see him address a little black girl as a "pickaninny" (establishing that he's a racist) and then blow up at a hotel desk clerk (establishing that he's got a Hair-Trigger Temper).
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: 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.
  • Femme Fatale: Slater's neighbor Helen (Grahame), 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—in spite of 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.
  • The Gambling Addict: Johnny Ingram is an impoverished jazz musician who doesn't wish to take part in the holdup, but reluctantly agrees to, since his losses at the racetrack have left him deeply – and dangerously – in debt to a mobster.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: This is Slater's Fatal Flaw. All of the troubles in his life have stemmed from his inability to control his temper. He confesses to his girlfriend Lorry that he actually likes getting angry, as the only time things come easy to him is when he is angry.
  • Hey, Wait!:
    • As Ingram is walking down the street in Melton, a car tries to cross against the light and causes a fender-bender right next to him. Not wishing to call attention to himself, he starts to walk away, only to be called back by a street cop... who wants to take down his statement as a witness.
    • A cop happens to catch sight of Burke just as he's exiting the side door of the bank, which starts the chain of events leading to the deaths of all three would-be robbers.
  • 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.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Slater is a racist thug who dislikes the idea of being partnered on a job with a black man, and takes every opportunity to needle, harass and belittle Ingram.
  • 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 due to a combination of Slater's racism and sheer bad luck.
  • 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 into taking part in the bank job.
  • 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.
  • What a Piece of Junk: The getaway car Burke arranges for the robbery is a beat-up old Chevy station wagon that won't draw a second glance from the police, but that has a souped-up engine that allows Slater to get it up to over 100 mph. The gas station attendant who gets a glimpse at it is very impressed.