28 Comments

  1. You and Melville are right. Odds is a culmination of noir and Belafonte deserves a ton of credit for his fidelity to the genre. The song “All Men Are Evil” is one of the noir anthems.

  2. Hi Tony,

    You highlight a movie here that I’ve managed to somehow miss in all my film noir viewing. I love Melville’s neo-noirs from the 60’s and I’m now super interested in seeing this one considering you and Melville view it so highly. You contrast this with Touch of Evil at the beginning in terms of the “end of the cycle”. Do you view Touch of Evil as more a reflection of the neo-noir era then, if it’s not the capstone to the traditional cycle? Or does it not fit in either eras for you?

  3. This is an absolutely stunning essay. I’d go as far as to say that it contends for the greatest I’ve ever read by any writer, at any site, on any subject. (I’ve been blogging for five years now). The high superlatives are deserved, as you have probed beneath the surface to present a persuasive argument for the film’s standing in the film noir category, but beyond that to examine the components, the characters, the setting and the film’s reputation. Though I can’t say I am wholly surprised that Melville saw the film 120 times (after all he was as impassioned a cineastes as ever lived) but it’s certainly telling that he gravitated towards this film in particular. Your broaching of the Hudson Valley setting is more than significant for me, as I know the location, and much like the shooting of ON THE WATERFRONT in Hoboken, it offers up a challenge at some point to see what still stands. I love the suggestion of the Greek chorus for John Lewis’s jazzy score, and the “fierce eroticism” present in the seduction scene. Certainly, Polonsky’s screenplay is extraordinary, and your generously sprinkled this study with telling quotes and references.

    This is truly a “celebration” of ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (your new position of where it ranks among Wise’s films is most interesting!) and I can’t wait to see it again at the Film Forum on August 17th!

  4. Thanks Samuel, Jon, and Sam. Great to have your comments.

    Samuel, I will have to revisit Belafonte’s early recordings, and ‘All Men Are Evil’ in particular.

    You have posed a challenging set of questions Jon! As with every Welles film, Touch of Evil, I feel, cannot be contained stylistically, while Odds Against Tomorrow is decidely noir. Noirs for me are concerned with the modern metropolis and the particular alienation that accompanies the anonymity of city life. The protagonists in Touch of Evil are authority figures in their respective small-town communities, and the story is more concerned with the corruption and moral dissolution grown of unbridled authority rather than the desperation of outsiders. In essence, Odds Against Tomorrow is more noir. This response may not satisfy you, but it is about as clearly as I can express a distinction that comes from a feeling and not from any rigorous analysis.

    Sam, as ever you are much too kind. I am glad you will be catching the movie in NY next month. I hope you will at least come some way towards my feelings for the film.. It certainly deserves more recognition and mounts as strong an argument as I can muster that Wise deserves greater critical respect.

  5. Tony, thank you for elaborating. Although my personal definition of noir deals more with overall tone and outlook, rather than the setting, I understand your distinction. I am going to then associate your distinction and definintion of noir with another “troubling” noir and assume then that you wouldn’t feel that Night of the Hunter really fits with noir either based on it being in a country, rural setting.

  6. Jon, sorry to complicate matters, but no I don’t see Night of the Hunter as a noir, but for different reasons :) In my review of Night of the Hunter, I describe it as a Gothic melodrama.

  7. Frank Gallo

    A real scholar’s piece. No wonder everyone is issuing so much praise. Like the use of critical excerpts, though this is a film I’ve yet to see. I know I’ll have my chance later in the month, and may be able to do it. I was always one to say that The Set-Up was Wise’s finest, but I may yet change that position.

  8. Well, I am back from the Film Forum, where I can strongly second your effusive praise for this film, and can further appreciate your stellar tratment here in nevery sense. Yes, the Central Park scene is fantastic, the characterizations deep, the performances by Ryan, Begley and Belafonts first rate and the location cinematography moody and atmospheric.

    I personally think you may have hit the bullseye with that statement about the film being Wise’s finest as a solo director. (I’m not counting WEST SIDE STORY, but that’s a different animal).

    The failed back robbery is a stunning sequence throughout, and at the very end when the bodies are indistinguishible, the racial underpinning yields its most profound statement.

    The print used by the Film Forum was razor sharp and gorgeous, and the audience was near a sell-out. (The film was screened with Lang’s CLASH BY NIGHT).

  9. It’s a joy to see so much commentary on this movie. I’ve been waiting for this for years now.
    To the author of the review…
    I salute your recognition of Odds as a great picture. For my two cents, it’s truly one of the best. I do, however, question your comments on Touch of Evil. To exclude it from the noir category requires the use of some sort of restrictive set of criteria – a method used by many critics – for analyzing these works. A number of great crime dramas from the classic period did not exclusively use cities as their setting. Using a similar style of analysis, other critics might say that Odds itself should be excluded because it does not employ the typical manipulative woman. [Although Gloria Grahame’s Helen is up to no good (and still hot as blue blazes)] Also, I see the metropolis/fate combination as – yes – factors but not the crucial element that sends the conspirators’ plan up in flames in this one. Consider Polonsky. A writer of his brilliance would not tell a story without including the human element. He shows us how institutional injustice (a factor that you note in his comments at the screening) combined with a basic failure to cooperate calls the shots. Something as immaterial, super-structural, and generally inexplicable as fate just is not in his toolbox. Are the forces that are against this dysfunctional team the protagonists? Burke has been beaten down for trying to do the right thing (not unlike Polonsky himself). Slater has served his country and tried to make it in a peaceful world. Ingram is trying to be a good father, but the economic demands and the social injustice keep knocking him down. As with most all noirs (including Polonsky’s earlier work Force of Evil), even these leading role characters are faulted – and deeply so. As is the case with the best of these flicks, good and evil are like the shades of grey that those cinematographers used so well.

    I had no idea that Belafonte had been blacklisted. Seems that since he did Carmen Jones in ’54 and performed on the Academy Awards show in ’56 he was still being allowed to work. However, if Paul Buhle (the ultimate expert) confirmed it then I believe it to be so.

    Thanks to all for letting me yap, yap, yap…

  10. Hi Rob. Thanks for your great observations here. I don’t disagree with you and I certainly don’t exclude Touch of Evil from the noir canon, it’s just that I feel Odds Against Tomorrow has a greater claim to ‘noirdom’.

    Fatalism to me is perhaps the most common of noir motifs. You are right to declaim Polonsky’s deep humanism. But both in McGivern’s book and in Polonsky’s screenplay it is fate that finally determines the protagonists’ destinies: Johnny being accosted by the cop at the traffic accident, and finally the police patrol car by chance being on the scene. Ultimately each guy takes on fate by his actions. I am reminded of a great line from Dassin’s equally brilliant, Riffifi. The wife of one of the hoods, whose young son is kidnapped by a rival gang, confronts the hood with these words: “There are kids… millions of kids who have grown up poor. Like you. How did it happen… What was the difference between you and them that you became a hood, a tough guy, and not them? Know what I think Jo, they’re the tough guys, not you.”

  11. John Evans

    Think I now know everything possible about this movie except the location of the Bar .
    Does anybody out there know ?

  12. cigar joe

    Hi John,
    The bar just may have been a set at Gold Medal Studios, Bronx, New York City. Or it just may have been an actual location, that is one I haven’t tracked down.
    cj

  13. John Evans UK

    Many thanks

    Yes makes sense , but I meant the location which is obviously a street, and even the inside of the Bar looks pretty real ?
    The other outside location not found yet is the appartment which Robert Ryan lived in ?
    The concentration seems to be on Hudson and I kick myself because I visted a place called Deposit and could have made a detour .
    Looks like I am not alone in spending a lot of my youth in movie houses.
    Not had as much fun since discovering the locations for ” Sweet smell of success ” !
    Regards to all you film buffs !

  14. John

    Looks like the street location of the best scene in the Movie was not noted -great shame -maybe Harry knows !

    Regards to all

  15. John,Evans UK

    Looks like a very tough one even for Cigar Joe to answer.
    The only clues number 395 on Royal hamburger across from bar ,and Empire State Building in background and not to far away ?
    Note a few spectators watching Robert Ryan walking up to and entering the bar .
    The wonders of the pause button !

  16. John Evans

    Seems to tough even for Cigar joe .
    The only clues to the location of the bar is the No 395 on the royal hamburger place opposite the bar ,and Empire State Building in the near distance ?

  17. Thanks for the additional clues John. FYI, the first post from a new commenter is moderated, thus the delay in having your earlier contribution published.

  18. Ed

    I don’t quite get the significance of Ingram asking Slater for the car key. It was never established earlier that Johnny would be doing the getaway car duties after the heist so why should Earle give him the keys? Can someone enlighten, or is this a slip-up in the script?
    Thanks in advance.

  19. Thanks John. Great work! Sorry your comment was in moderation for a couple of days. The site went down on that day, and I didn’t get the usual email alerts of new comments.

  20. David kleinman

    There is a deep connection between Odds and the strange and equally great underrated gem Kiss me Deadly by Aldrich.Both films are actually apocalyptic in nature.Odds fissionable material is racism and Kiss material is atomic..both end in a mind blowing Armageddon as human greed and folly accelerate the doomed characters to a fiery end.Nearly all the players in both dramas are blinded by their desperation to escape their circumstances by the big score so they can liberate themselves from their respective prisons in post war materialistic america.Both films are masterpieces noir or no noir…

  21. Thanks for the great contribution David. Your observations point to how important the greatness of the screenplay is in both films. Bezzeridis for Kiss Me Deadly and Polonsky for Odds Against Tomorrow: true subversives or in modern parlance disruptives.

  22. David kleinman

    I would like to comment on the depiction of violence in Odds .My brother who is both a film and sound editor and has taught at such films schools as Usc ,has shown Odds to his graduate and undergraduate students.Considering the age difference,sometimes a two generation gap between my brother and his students this incident always happens. The violence in Odds is so real, so disturbing that considering what his students have seen in recent movies,when Baco whips Johnny with the pearls and threatens to destroy everything Johnny has,including his family his students always gasp and move uncomfortably in their seats.The scene is so brilliantly lit and constructed and flares up the images of master and slave from a hundred years ago,it near fails to stun his students. Another such impact on the audience is the bar scene with Earl as he teaches the young marine a lesson in the manly arts of destruction.Any man who has experienced and Earl like encounter in his life clutches his stomach as the action unfolds.Just a few of many scenes of existential dread that overflows in this great great film..

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