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.
The point of the screenplay, based on a novel of the same name by William P. McGivern, is that the odds against tomorrow coming at all are very long unless there is some understanding and tolerance today. The point is made by means of a crime anecdote, a framework not completely satisfactory for cleanest impact.
Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan and Ed Begley form a partnership with plans to rob a bank with a haul estimated to total $150,000. An ill-matched trio, their optimistic plans are dependent on the closest teamwork. Belafonte, a horse-playing night club entertainer, is something of an adolescent. Ryan is a psychotic. Begley, as ex-cop fired for crookedness, has learned from this experience only not to get caught.
Director Robert Wise has drawn fine performances from his players. It is the most sustained acting Belafonte has done. Ryan makes the flesh crawl as the fanatical bigot. Begley turns in a superb study of a foolish, befuddled man who dies, as he has lived, without knowing quite what he has been involved in.
Shelley Winters etches a memorable portrait, and Gloria Grahame is poignant in a brief appearance. Joseph Brun’s black and white photography catches the grim spirit of the story and accents it with some glinting mood shots. John Lewis’ music backs it with a neurotic, edgy, progressive jazz score.