Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
Tagline: “He knew where $50,000 lay begging to be STOLEN!”
According to James Ellroy, “the best heist-gone-wrong movie ever made”, The Odds Against Tomorrow plays like The Defiant Ones’ uglier, meaner kid brother. Director Robert Wise added a thick slaver of racial anger to the noir stylings of ‘50s crime classics to serve up a stripped-back melodrama simmering with tension and peppered with shotgun dialogue. Jazz man Harry Belafonte (who also produced under his HarBel marque) and broken-down war vet Robert Ryan are handpicked by Ed Begley’s bitter ex-cop to take down an upstate bank. Bad choice. The hatred between the two boils over from the beginning – “I’ve been handling them all my life,” spits Ryan’s racist dixielander, “he’s no different because he’s got him a $20 pair of shoes” – while Shelley Winter’s loyal moll only stirs the pot. The build-up to the heist takes us from smoky New York clubs to a wintry New York State, backdropped with skeletal trees and deserted freeways, while a taut score by the Modern Jazz Quartet builds the mood to its pulsing crescendo. An underrated slice of heist noir, we’re with Ellroy on this one.
Iconic moment: The final shoot-out in a oil refinery is a fiery homage to White Heat.
What to quote: “It's just one role of the dice. Doesn't matter what color they are so long as they come up seven.”
Pub trivia: A self-confessed Marxist, screenwriter Abraham Polonsky was blacklisted by UAC and remained uncredited for his work on the film until 1997.
Further reading… High Sierra (1941), Appointment With Danger (1951), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)