8 November 2016



Ah now, this is the stuff, a terrific black-and-white film noir thriller set in the era when men were men and women were glad of it, goddammit. It's the story of a bank heist that- you guessed it- goes horribly wrong and has what you might call a lasting effect on the three participants.

Let's face it, have you ever seen a heist movie where the bank raid went horribly right and the robbers went safely home to their wives and families and lived happily ever? Unlikely, haha. RESERVOIR DOGS sure as hell didn't end in a haze of sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere, and neither did most other bank heist movies you care to name. Naturally I can't think of a single other one at this particular moment in time, but I'm sure you know what I mean, haha.

It's the nature of the game, innit? You can't expect to grow old and fat and happy on ill-gotten gains, neither in life nor in film. And even if you do get by okay this way for a while, you can be pretty sure that some sort of karmic reckoning will be coming down the road for you at some stage. Guaranteed.

This is a heist planned by an embittered retired cop with an axe to grind against state crime investigators. He enlists two real losers to help him with the bank job, which of course is the one big job to end all jobs, the robbery that's meant to set all three of them up in comfort and style for the rest of their lives. Oh, I just know it's all going to work out for them...!

Harry Belafonte, the devastatingly handsome black actor/singer whose company HarBel Productions actually made the movie, plays Johnny Ingram, a womanising nightclub singer who's up to his tonsils in gambling debt. He's not keen on doing the bank job, but he's got thugs threatening his ex-wife and adored little daughter if he doesn't cough up the dough, so what choice does he have?

Robert Ryan, one of Hollywood's truly tough 'tough guys,' plays Earl Slater, a racist ex-con who's free-falling towards an ignominious, poverty-stricken old-age if he doesn't have this one last bash at making his mark on the world. He lives off his girlfriend Lorry, played by Shelley Winters, in a grubby little apartment, and doesn't have much of a future ahead of him, the way things stand.

Shelley Winters is brilliant as the desperate, pathetically needy girlfriend of Earl. He's not exactly the reliable kind, so every time he leaves the apartment, she's afraid he might find a better proposition and not come back. She smothers him with her love and uses what money she has to keep him coming back for more. It's a recipe for disaster, and everyone can see it but poor Lorry.

I love the scene where Earl, who looks like an old man to the younger generation, teaches the cocky young soldier some manners by proving to him who's the toughest of the pair. I also love where he commits adultery with bored, neglected housewife Helen, played by Gloria Grahame who still looks rather fetching in her form-fitting 'Fifties underwear. I do feel bad for poor old Lorry, though...

Earl is kind of like a tightly-wound war veteran who keeps re-living the nightmare of war and can't adjust to life on Civvy Street, but he's just an ex-con as far as we know. A tightly-wound ex-con who'd punch you right in the kisser if you so much as looked at him sideways.

He's a ticking time-bomb just waiting to go off, using Lorry for her money and her apartment and abusing Johnny racially for no reason other than that he's a bigot and a racist. But Johnny's no pushover. Used to encountering racist situations, he stands up for himself when he's being talked down to by ignoramuses who demeaningly call him 'boy.' . One of these days, an explosive showdown between the pair is definitely on the cards...

Both the lead actors, Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan, were in fact activists for civil rights in real life. Harry Belafonte in particular felt strongly about the issue and founded his company, HarBel Productions, to make films that dealt with the issue of racism.

He might have felt more comfortable about the whole situation if he'd known that a mere two years after he made this film, a baby called Barack Obama, a pretty cool guy who was later to become the first ever black President of the United States, would be born to the world but hey, he wasn't bloody psychic, was he...?

Check out the song being sung in the nightclub called 'ALL MEN ARE EVIL,' by the way. I'm not saying that I agree with the sentiments contained therein or anything, but it sure makes for fun listening...!

This gripping film noir thriller is out now on Blu-Ray from the BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE, and it's got some truly special extra features on there as well, including interviews with both Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte and also with the director, Robert Wise.

Robert Wise, incidentally, later won Best Director Academy Awards for two films which are as different from ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW as chalk is from cheese, namely: WEST SIDE STORY (1961) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965).

He also directed I WANT TO LIVE (1958), one of the saddest stories I've ever seen on the issue of capital punishment. It starred the fiery Susan Heyward in the leading role and, to this day, after seeing it donkeys' years ago as a kid, I've never forgotten that 'from Wobbleton to Wibbleton is fifteen miles...!' I believe that the reverse is true as well, haha.

I must just mention as well that Robert Wise, who died in 2005 aged ninety-one, actually directed one of the most terrifying 'haunted house' movies ever made, namely THE HAUNTING from 1963 starring Claire Bloom.

I don't know what the kids today would make of it, as it's one of those films where what you don't see is scarier than what you do see, but to my mind it's up there with THE INNOCENTS, a superb British supernatural gothic horror film from 1961, for the sheer ability to frighten the living daylights out of the viewer.

There you go, anyway, some free-gratis-and-for-nothing info on a top-notch director from your favourite movie reviewer, haha. No, no, don't thank me, I'm just doing my job...!

If you feel like watching a tough gritty thriller from an era when tough guys walked the walk as well as just talking the talk, well, then this is the movie for you. The film's message is made crystal-clear at the dénouement, which is nice for viewers like me who frequently don't understand the endings of movies and are left scratching their heads in puzzlement mumbling 'what the hell just happened...?'  Oh, and Gloria Grahame's wearing a lovely black lacy bra. What more could you ask for...?


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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