David Burke (Ed Begley) is a former police detective who was forced to leave his job who has a plan to rob a bank, but needs some help to pull it off. First is Earl Slater (Robert Ryan), a real tough guy and former criminal, and then there’s Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte), a nightclub performer with a fondness for gambling. Earl isn’t interested in it at first, but David has promised him $50,000 for his assistance and Earl could really use the extra money because he feels guilty for letting his girlfriend Lorry (Shelley Winters) support him. Johnny doesn’t want to be involved at first, either, but he has a fondness for gambling and owes some money to a gangster who has threatened to harm his ex-wife and daughter if he doesn’t get his money. Both Earl and Johnny reluctant agree to help David with the heist, but there’s one major problem — Johnny is a black man and Earl is deeply racist. Earl wants to back out when he finds out who his partner in crime will be, but ultimately can’t stand being a kept man.
David has planned the heist out in detail, but Earl’s intolerance of Johnny puts the heist in jeopardy. When the time comes to rob the bank, they start to carry out their plan, but it all goes awry because Earl refuses to trust Johnny.
Three words for Odds Against Tomorrow: first-rate noir! It’s an incredibly gritty movie with a gripping story, a great score, excellent performances, and fascinating characters. And when I say it’s gritty, I mean this is a movie that absolutely revels in grit and grime. It’s a movie that didn’t hit any wrong notes with me and that almost makes it hard for me to write about, because there’s nothing negative for me to say; I liked it all. This was a B-picture, so it’s a an excellent example of how you don’t need a huge budget to make a real knock-out of a movie.
When Elaine Sampson’s (Lauren Bacall) wealthy disappears, she calls detective Lew Harper (Paul Newman) to track him down. Elaine doesn’t care if her husband is dead or alive, but she knows he’s likely drunk and with another woman and she just wants to find out where he is before he gets too generous in his drunken state and gives away something valuable yet again. He starts by talking to Sampson’s daughter Miranda (Pamela Triffin) and personal pilot Allan Taggert (Robert Wagner). After finding out Sampson had been keeping a bungalow in Los Angeles, Harper takes a trip there to investigate and finds a picture of washed-up starlet Fay Eastabrook (Shelley Winters). Harper spends an evening with Fay, and when he brings her home very drunk, he answers a mysterious phone call from a woman thinking she was talking to Fay’s husband. The woman calling says she saw Fay out with a strange man that night and that she ought to get rid of before “the truck comes through.” From there, he keeps following lead after lead until he finds himself tied up in a conspiracy involving Taggert, Fay, Troy, drug-addicted singer Betty Fraley (Julie Harris), a cult leader, and that mysterious truck.
This movie is just plain awesome. I absolutely loved Paul Newman in this role. Lauren Bacall was a flawless choice to play the jaded, bitter wife. Pamela Triffin was so campy and over the top, but when she was on screen with Lauren Bacall, their two attitudes were so big, that it was just too much and I mean that the best possible way. If drag queens are not already re-enacting that scene in their acts, they are missing a golden opportunity. But fun, campy moments aside, Harper is a quality mystery. The story’s got enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes the whole time and there’s a great twist at the end. From start to finish, it’s nothing but good, quality entertainment.