Showing posts with label Shelley Winters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shelley Winters. Show all posts

Monday, July 30, 2018

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Dave Burke (Ed Begley) has a plan. The disgraced former New York City cop, disillusioned with the system, has been dreaming of the perfect bank heist. He's been keeping an eye on a small town bank and Burke knows exactly when to strike. He enlists two friends to help him pull off the heist. First there's Earle Slater (Robert Ryan), an ex-con who is trying to make things right with his live-in girlfriend Lorry (Shelley Winters). Unable to support her financially, he takes Burke up on his offer to make a quick $50k with the robbery. Then there's Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte), a jazz singer who is deep in debt with his local bookies. He's separated from his wife Ruth (Kim Hamilton) and their daughter Eadie and knows he won't be able to come back to old life unless he gets himself out of this mess. But Burke has two problems. Slater is a terrible racist and unwilling to work with Johnny. And Burke has to seek out the head bookie and his team of thugs to put the pressure on Ingram. Burke's plan is solid but can Slater and Ingram stop butting heads long enough to execute the robbery?

Directed by Robert Wise, Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) is a film noir with a social agenda. The story of racial tension in 1950s America is effectively told through the lens of a bank heist drama.


The final scene of Odds Against Tomorrow delivers a poignant message: in the end we're all the same. After botching the bank heist because Slater (Robert Ryan) wouldn't trust Ingram (Harry Belafonte) with a key, they chase each other to fuel storage center. They meet their demise when a shoot out causes a massive explosion. The police discover their charred remains and any identifier of race or status is completely gone.


Shot on location in Manhattan and upstate New York, the film is gritty and real. Harry Belafonte, who was at the height of his music career, has the lead role and top billing. The movie was produced by his company HarBel Productions, Inc. and released through United Artists. It was remarkable for its time for having an African-American lead actor in a film noir. HarBel Productions was in negotiations with Richard Widmark for the role of Slater but eventually the part went to Robert Ryan. Widmark and Ryan were both perfect for the role so it was no loss either way. Ryan, who was a champion for civil rights, was at first hesitant to play Slater. According to Ryan biographer J.R. Jones, he said "a great many people realize that the characters they see on the screen are fictional or created but there is a substantial group that does not make that distinction." Recognizing the quality of the script and the significance of the movie, Ryan eventually agreed.

Ryan who played an anti-semitic character in Crossfire (1947) is reunited with his co-star in that film Gloria Grahame. Grahame has a small role in Odds Against Tomorrow as the next-door neighbor turned temptress Helen. Her part doesn't quite make sense for the movie except to inject the film with a bit of sex. Grahame and Ryan have a steamy scene when Helen's attempts to flirt with Slater get her more than she bargained for. In one racy shot, Ryan rips open Grahame's robe. According to the AFI,

"Gloria Grahame threatened a $100,000 lawsuit against United Artists, demanding they refrain from using certain photos of her in publicity for the film on the grounds that they were candid and taken without her knowledge. The photographs were taken by co-star Robert Ryan. The outcome of Grahame's demand has not been determined." 

I'd be remiss not to point out some of the fine performances in this film. Beyond Belafonte and Ryan, Ed Begley is adept at playing a character that is equal parts dark and sympathetic. I wanted more from Shelley Winters who is always a delight to watch on screen. I felt like her part was lacking. I was particularly fascinated with Richard Bright's Coco, one of Bacco's bookie thugs who antagonizes Johnny Ingram. There is a sadistic homoerotic tension between the two characters. His character reminded me a bit of Neville Brand's part in D.O.A. (1950). Robert Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson have bit parts as employees of the underground jazz club.

Odds Against Tomorrow was based on William P. McGivern's novel by the same name. It was adapted to screen by screenwriter Abraham Polonsky and Nelson Gidding. Polonsky, an unabashed Marxist and former member of the Communist Party, was blacklisted in 1951. He was named by actor Sterling Hayden and when brought to the HUAC  Polonsky refused to testify. For Odds Against Tomorrow, he used the name of left-wing African-American author John O. Killens as a front. It wasn't until 1996 that the WGA finally gave Polonsky credit for his work on this film. Before being blacklisted, Polonsky had written and directed Force of Evil (1948).

Fans of French cinema need to watch Odds Against Tomorrow particularly for the impact it had on director Jean-Pierre Melville. He was heavily influenced by Wise's film, watched it over 80 times and kept his own 35mm copy. Throughout his career, Melville would make references to Odds Against Tomorrow in his own movies.

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) is available on Blu-Ray from Olive Films. Many thanks to Olive Films for sending me a copy to review.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The Poseidon (1972)

This review is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

It's New Year's Eve, and the S.S. Poseidon is on its scheduled final journey. The cruise liner is a few days behind schedule and the captain (Leslie Nielsen) is feeling pressure to speed things up from new owner Linarcos (Fred Sadoff). He wants to make up ground but the captain is worried that the old vessel won't be able to handle going full speed ahead and it will put their passengers in danger. On board are a motley crew of vacationers heading to different ports of call. Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman) tends to the religious needs of the passengers. His approach to faith is radically different from the more traditional view of the ship's chaplain (Arthur O'Connell). Then there is Robin (Eric Shea), a young curious boy who wants to learn everything there is to know about the S.S. Poseidon. He's traveling with his sister Susan (Pamela Sue Martin) on the way to see their parents. Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) his devoted to his wife Linda (Stella Stevens), whom he rescued from a life of prostitution. Then there are the Rosens, Belle (Shelley Winters) and Manny (Jack Albertson), a loving couple on their way to see their new grandchild in Israel. They befriend bachelor Martin (Red Buttons), whose focus on health and fitness keeps him busy to avoid feelings of loneliness. Then there is the staff like Acres (Roddy McDowall) a waiter in the main dining room and Nonnie (Carol Lynley), a singer whose band hitches a ride on the Poseidon and pay their way with performances.

Little do the passengers and crew know that a disaster is impending. A nearby earthquake creates a tidal wave and because the captain had to speed up the vessel, they are headed straight for it.  While everyone celebrates the ringing in of a New Year, the wave hits the S.S. Poseidon turning it over. Led by Reverend Scott, Robin, Susan, the Rogos, the Rosens, Martin, Acres and Nonnie make their way to the bottom of the ship which is now the top. They face doubts from other passengers and internal doubts as they struggle their way to freedom. With so many deaths and more to come, who will survive? How will they work together to save their own lives? Will this team make it out of the vessel to be rescued?

The principal players of The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Based on the novel by Paul Gallico and directed by Ronald Neame, The Poseidon Adventure (1972) was a box office hit. It was a gamble for 20th Century Fox which had been backtracking from investing in big budget movies. This movie paid off. They invested $4.7 million and made $40 million+ in rentals. Some significant changes to the novel's plot and the portrayal of the main characters helped develop the film adaptation into something cinema goers would enjoy. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won 2. The film spawned a sequel and a remake.

Disaster movies always give me anxiety. I emotionally invest myself in the characters and I want to see them survive. Watching The Poseidon Adventure, I was the most anxious I have ever been since watching Titanic (1997) when it came out in theaters. I was at the edge of my seat. This film had some really great moments of tension. Each stage to climb the different levels in order to get off the ship was like an insane obstacle course that challenged each group member physically and emotionally. I expected this movie to be cheesy but was pleased how for the most part it wasn't. The drama felt real not forced.

Faith plays an important role in the movie. It starts with Gene Hackman's character Reverend Scott. He's a man of the cloth going through a crisis of faith but has to lead others in their own beliefs. When the disaster strikes, he comes up with a plan to escape but it takes the faith of a small group of people who believe in him to follow Rev. Scott on this treacherous journey. Some of the characters struggle with faith whether its with themselves or with their leader. There is also little Robin who has learned some very useful information about the ship but because of his young age characters like Rogo doubt him. It takes the faith Rev. Scott has in him to use that information for them to move forward.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) is a captivating disaster movie that will keep you enthralled to the very last minute. I highly recommend it.

I rented The Poseidon Adventure (1972) on DVD Netflix. Click on this link to add it to your queue. Thank you to DVD Netflix for sponsoring this post.

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