Odds Against Tomorrow

Odds Against Tomorrow is a 1959 film noir produced and directed by Robert Wise and starring Harry Belafonte. He selected Abraham Polonsky to write the script, which is based on a novel of the same name by William P. McGivern. Blacklisted in those years, Polonsky had to use a front and John O. Killens was credited. Polonsky's screenwriting credit was restored in 1996 in his own name.

Odds Against Tomorrow
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Wise
Produced byRobert Wise
Screenplay byAbraham Polonsky
Nelson Gidding
Based onthe novel Odds Against Tomorrow
by William P. McGivern
StarringHarry Belafonte
Robert Ryan
Ed Begley
Gloria Grahame
Shelley Winters
Music byJohn Lewis
CinematographyJoseph C. Brun
Edited byDede Allen
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • October 15, 1959 (1959-10-15) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States

Odds Against Tomorrow was the last time that Wise shot black-and-white film in the standard aspect ratio, a technique that gave his films a "gritty realism".[1]


David Burke (Ed Begley) is a former policeman who was ruined when he refused to cooperate with state crime investigators. He has asked Earl Slater (Robert Ryan), a hard-bitten, racist, ex-con, to help him rob an upstate bank, promising him $50,000 if the robbery is successful. Burke also recruits Johnny Ingram (Belafonte), a nightclub entertainer. He doesn't want the job but is addicted to gambling and is deeply in debt.

Slater, who is supported by his girlfriend, Lorry (Shelley Winters), learns that Ingram is black and refuses the job. Later, he realizes that he needs the money, and joins Ingram and Burke in the enterprise.

Tensions between Ingram and Slater increase as they near completion of the crime. Burke is seen by a police officer leaving the scene of the raid, and is mortally wounded in the ensuing shootout with local police. He commits suicide, shooting himself to avoid capture. Slater is cavalier about Burke's death, which infuriates Ingram. Slater and Ingram begin to fight each other even as they try to evade the police. Ingram and Slater escape and run into a nearby fuel storage depot. They chase each other onto the top of the fuel tanks. When they exchange gunfire, the fuel tanks ignite, causing a large explosion. Afterward, their burned corpses are indistinguishable from each other. The last scene focuses on a sign at the entrance of the fuel storage depot saying, "Stop, Dead End".



The film was produced by HarBel Productions,[2] a company founded by the film's star, Harry Belafonte. He selected Abraham Polonsky as the screenwriter. Polonsky was blacklisted by the House Unamerican Activities Committee at the time, which had conducted extensive hearings on so-called communist influence in the film industry. He used John O. Killens, a black novelist and friend of Belafonte, as a front to be the credited screenwriter. In 1996, the Writers Guild of America restored Polonsky's film credit under his own name.[3]

Principal photography began in March 1959.[4] All outdoor scenes were shot in New York City and Hudson, New York, about 120 miles upriver.[2] According to director Robert Wise:[5]

I did something in Odds Against Tomorrow I'd been wanting to do in some pictures but hadn't had the chance. I wanted a certain kind of mood in some sequences, such as the opening when Robert Ryan is walking down West Side Street ... I used infra-red film. You have to be very careful with that because it turns green things white, and you can't get too close on people's faces. It does distort them but gives that wonderful qualityblack skies with white cloudsand it changes the feeling and look of the scenes.

This film was the last in which Wise shot black-and-white film in the standard aspect ratio. This technique "gave his films the gritty realism they were known for".[1] After this film, Wise shot two black-and-white films, both in the scope aspect ratio - Two for the Seesaw and The Haunting.

Musical score and soundtrack

Odds Against Tomorrow
Soundtrack album by
RecordedJuly 16, 17 & 20, 1959 in NYC
GenreFilm score
LabelUnited Artists
UAL 4061
John Lewis chronology
Improvised Meditations and Excursions
Odds Against Tomorrow
The Golden Striker
Professional ratings
Review scores

The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. The soundtrack album was released on the United Artists label in 1959.[7] To realize his score, Lewis assembled a 22-piece orchestra, which included MJQ bandmates Milt Jackson on vibraphone, Percy Heath on bass and Connie Kay on drums, as well as Bill Evans on piano, and Jim Hall on guitar.[1][8][9] Allmusic's Bruce Eder noted, "This superb jazz score by John Lewis was later turned into a hit by The Modern Jazz Quartet. It's dark and dynamic, and a classic".[6] The Modern Jazz Quartet's album of Lewis' themes; Music from Odds Against Tomorrow was recorded in October 1959. The track "Skating in Central Park" became a permanent part of the MJQ's repertoire.[10] It was also reused for a similar scene in the 1971 film Little Murders.

Track listing

All compositions by John Lewis

  1. "Prelude to Odds Against Tomorrow" - 1:44
  2. "A Cold Wind Is Blowing" - 1:20
  3. "Five Figure People Crossing Paths" - 1:40
  4. "How to Frame Pigeons" - 1:04
  5. "Morning Trip to Melton" - 3:09
  6. "Looking at the Caper" - 2:01
  7. "Johnny Ingram's Possessions" - 1:08
  8. "The Carousel Incident" - 1:44
  9. "Skating in Central Park" - 3:29
  10. "No Happiness for Slater" - 3:56
  11. "Main Theme: Odds Against Tomorrow" - 3:24
  12. "Games" - 2:17
  13. "Social Call" - 3:53
  14. "The Impractical Man - 3:00
  15. Advance on Melton"- 1:58
  16. "Waiting Around the River" - 3:51
  17. "Distractions" - 1:25
  18. "The Caper Failure" - 1:23
  19. "Postlude" - 0:45



Critical response

The film has an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times described Wise's direction as "tight and strong" and the film as a "sharp, hard, suspenseful melodrama", with a "sheer dramatic build-up ... of an artistic caliber that is rarely achieved on the screen."[2]

Time magazine wrote:

The tension builds well to the climax—thanks partly to Director Robert Wise (I Want to Live!), partly to an able Negro scriptwriter named John O. Killens, but mostly to Actor Ryan, a menace who can look bullets and smile sulphuric acid. But the tension is released too soon—and much too trickily. The spectator is left with a feeling that is aptly expressed in the final frame of the film, when the camera focuses on a street sign that reads: STOPDEAD END.[11]

Variety magazine said: "On one level, Odds against Tomorrow is a taut crime melodrama. On another, it is an allegory about racism, greed and man's propensity for self-destruction. Not altogether successful in the second category, it still succeeds on its first."[12]

Forty years after its release, Stephen Holden called the film "sadly overlooked".[13]


The film was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Motion Picture Promoting International Understanding, losing at the 17th Golden Globe Awards to The Diary Of Anne Frank.


A screenplay book, Odds Against Tomorrow: A Critical Edition (ISBN 0963582348), was published in 1999 by The Center for Telecommunication Studies, sponsored by the Radio-TV-Film Department at California State University, Northridge (CSUN).[14] The book includes the film's complete script (which "blends" the shooting script and the continuity script), and a critical analysis, written by CSUN professor John Schultheiss. He conducted interviews with Wise, Belafonte and Polonsky.


Odds Against Tomorrow was released to DVD by MGM Home Video on December 2, 2003 as a Region 1 non-widescreen DVD.

See also


  1. "Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  2. Crowther, Bosley (October 16, 1959). "Odds Against Tomorrow: Race Prejudice Mars Hold-up of a Bank". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  3. Honan, William (October 29, 1999). "Abraham Polonsky, 88, Dies; Director Damaged by Blacklist". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  4. "Lead Man Holler". Time. March 2, 1959. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  5. "More information on Odds Against Tomorrow". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  6. Eder, Bruce. Odds Against Tomorrow [Original Soundtrack – Review] at AllMusic. Retrieved September 11, 2015.
  7. United Artists Album Discography: 4000/5000 Series (1958-1972) accessed September 11, 2015
  8. Milt Jackson catalog accessed September 11, 2015
  9. Gunther Schuller discography accessed September 11, 2015
  10. Modern Jazz Quartet catalog accessed September 11, 2015
  11. "Review of Odds Against Tomorrow". Time. October 26, 1959. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  12. "Review of Odds Against Tomorrow". Variety. 1959. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  13. Holden, Stephen (June 11, 1999). "Bringing Home A World Of Injustice". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  14. "Rare Film Screening Offers Chance to Talk with Writer Abraham Polonsky, Director Robert Wise". press release. California State University, Northridge. April 22, 1999. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
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