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Odds Against Tomorrow was the last time Wise shot black-and-white film in the standard aspect ratio, which "gave his films the gritty realism they were known for".
David Burke (Ed Begley) is a former policeman who was ruined when he refused to cooperate with state crime investigators. He has asked hard-bitten, racist, ex-con Earl Slater (Robert Ryan) 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 who doesn’t want the job but who is addicted to gambling and is in debt.
Slater, who is supported by his girlfriend, Lorry (Shelley Winters), finds out 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, so he commits suicide by shooting himself. Slater is insensitive and cavalier about the death of Burke which incenses Ingram. Slater and Ingram begin to fight each other as they try to evade capture by the police. Ingram and Slater escape and run into a nearby fuel storage depot. They chase after each other on the top of the fuel tanks. They exchange gunfire and ignite the fuel tanks and cause a large explosion. Afterwards, their corpses are indistinguishable from one another. The last scene focuses on a sign at the entrance of the fuel storage depot saying, "Stop, Dead End".
Harry Belafonte as Ingram
Robert Ryan as Slater
Shelley Winters as Lorry
Ed Begley as Burke
Gloria Grahame as Helen
Will Kuluva as Bacco
Kim Hamilton as Ruth
Mae Barnes as Annie
Richard Bright as Coco
Carmen De Lavallade as Kitty
Lew Gallo as Moriarty
Lois Thorne as Eadie
Wayne Rogers Soldier in bar
Zohra Lampert as Girl in Bar
Allen Nourse as Police Chief
Cicely Tyson as Jazz Club Bartender (uncredited)
Mel Stewart as Hotel Juno Elevator Operator (uncredited)
Robert Earl Jones as Jazz Club Patron (uncredited).
Principal photography began in March 1959.All outdoor scenes were shot in New York City and Hudson, New York.According to director Robert Wise:
"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 quality—black skies with white clouds—and it changes the feeling and look of the scenes."
The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet and the soundtrack album was released on the United Artists label in 1959.To realise his score Lewis assembled a 22 piece orchestra that 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.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".The Modern Jazz Quartet's album of Lewis' themes; Music from Odds Against Tomorrow was recorded in October 1959 and one of the tracks "Skating in Central Park", became a permanent part of the MJQ's repertoire.It was also reused for a similar scene in the 1971 film Little Murders.
ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (Soundtrack) / MJQ . 1959.
01. Skating In Central Park 6:07
02. No Happiness For Slater 5:18
03. A Social Call 4:45
04. Cue #9 5:00
05. A Cold Wind Is Blowing 7:29
06. Odds Against Tomorrow 3:33
Recorded at Olmsted Sound Studios in New York City on October 9, 1959.
Piano, Composed By – John Lewis (2)
Vibraphone [Vibes] – Milt Jackson
Bass – Percy Heath
Drums – Connie Kay
John Lewis - arranger, conductor
Bernie Glow, Joe Wilder, John Ware, Melvyn Broiles - trumpet
John Clark, Tom McIntosh - trombone
Al Richman, Gunther Schuller, Paul Ingram, Ray Alonge - French horn
Harvey Phillips - tuba
Robert DiDomenica - flute
Harvey Shapiro, Joseph Tekula - cello
Ruth Berman - harp
Milt Jackson - vibraphone
Bill Evans - piano
Jim Hall - guitar
Percy Heath - bass
Connie Kay - drums
Richard Horowitz - timpani
Walter Rosenberger - percussion.