Saturday, July 06, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

And so we come to my final review of "first-time watches" at this year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival!

On Saturday Foster Hirsch introduced ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959), starring Robert Ryan, Harry Belafonte, and Ed Begley (Sr.), with Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame in support. Belafonte also produced.

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW is a heist film shot around New York; some scenes were filmed in New York City, and the bank robbery sequence was filmed in Hudson, New York.

I was particularly intrigued to learn from Hirsch that Belafonte, who also produced, hired French cinematographer Joseph C. Brun because he wanted the film to be an outsider's perspective on the U.S., looking more like a European movie. The film's stark black and white look in fact reminded me a great deal of the classic French heist film RIFIFI (1955). The location shooting was terrific, especially the small-town scenes.

The movie concerns three men who band together to rob a bank: Duke (Robert Ryan), a racist ex-con who is bored and chafing at being supported by Lorry (Winters), who loves him despite everything; Burke (Begley), a one-time cop who masterminds the plot; and Johnny (Belafonte), a nightclub singer with urgent debts to pay.

The trio work out a plan to rob a small-town bank, but the ever-present racial animus among the men threatens to tank the job. They pull it together to move forward, but complications ensue...boy, do they ever.

This was such an interesting and engrossing film. The setting is quite bleak, yet rather than being depressing, the film really sucked me in. I'm often impatient with "stupid people making stupid decisions," but everything about this one grabbed me -- the performances, the location shooting, the cinematography, and the fantastic musical score (by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet). It all builds to a heck of a finale which was both dramatic and fitting.

Ryan is stunningly good playing raw, angry characters, and this one is surely near the top of the list for him. It's all the more fascinating as it's widely acknowledged characters like this were the antithesis of Ryan's quiet, community-oriented offscreen persona. A few years ago I wrote about his founding of Oakwood School for the Dark Pages newsletter; perhaps I'll reprint that here at some point.

Begley isn't a character actor I usually enjoy -- no particular reason, I simply don't find him interesting to watch -- but he's certainly good for the role here. Belafonte does a fine job in his fifth film, playing a man torn between his estranged wife (Kim Hamilton) and daughter (Lois Thorne) and his demons. I loved the nightclub performance scenes.

Shelley Winters is far less annoying than is often the case as Duke's supportive ladylove. My only real quibble with the film was that I felt the scenes with Gloria Grahame were pointless and added nothing to the story. She plays a neighbor who comes on strongly to Ryan while also trying to manipulate him to baby-sit (!). Other than perhaps adding to the picture of despair which was his character's life, I felt those scenes were a waste of time, trying to shoehorn Grahame into the movie; I'd rather the film had fleshed out something more on-point or even whittled down its 96 minutes a bit.

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW was directed by Robert Wise, who made a great many outstanding films in his career.

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films.

I hope the combination of my daily overview posts (all linked here) along with the individual reviews of some of the films seen convey just how much I enjoyed the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. Every year it's a fantastic experience for multiple reasons, and I highly recommend my readers consider attending in the future.

Next year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival will be held in Palm Springs from May 7th through the 10th.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Your mentioning of this film's showing at the festival inspired me to send for a copy of the film as I had not seen it in years. I watched it a week or two back and am able to completely agree with your own assessment.
Ed Begley CAN be terrific in the right circumstances and this movie was one of those cases; Winters also was underplaying, a nice change. Belafonte and Ryan though really sparked off each other. Robert Ryan's name on a film just immediately lifts my spirits and expectations.
A very fine movie.

12:04 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's fantastic, Jerry! Love knowing that my mentioning it spurred you to revisit this film and that you enjoyed it as much as I did. Everyone was really on the top of their game in this one. Surely agree with you about Ryan.

Thanks for adding your endorsement, really hope more people will check out this very interesting film.

Best wishes,

6:22 PM  

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