“Odds Against Tomorrow” (1959) starring Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters, & Ed Begley

Dave Burke (veteran character actor Ed Begley) is looking to hire two men to assist him in a bank raid: Earle Slater (Robert Ryan), a white/middle-aged ex-con, and Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte- also co-producer), a young/Black singer w/ a gambling problem. Ingram (who likes the finer things in life) is recently divorced from his schoolteacher wife, Ruth (Kim Hamilton), w/ whom he shares a young daughter. Burke arranges for Ingram’s creditors to put pressure on him. Slater (who has a quick temper) feels humiliated by his failure to provide for his devoted wife, Lorry (Shelley Winters), who works two jobs. The two men, though reluctant at first, eventually accept to do the crime. Slater loathes and despises Blacks; tensions in the gang quickly mount.

[after Slater insults Ingram]

Burke: Don’t beat out that Civil War jazz here, Slater! We’re all in this together, each man equal. And we’re taking care of each other. It’s one big play, our one and only chance to grab stakes forever. And I don’t want to hear what your grandpappy thought on the old farm down in Oklahoma! You got it?

Belafonte chose Abraham Polonsky (writer/director of Force of Evil) to write the script. As a blacklisted writer, Polonsky used the name of John O. Killens (a Black novelist/friend of Belafonte). In 1997, the WGA restored Polonsky’s credit. The director is Robert Wise (West Side Story; The Sound of Music); he used infra-red film in some scenes (to create a distorted feel).

This is the first film noir with a Black protagonist! The bartender at the jazz club is a young Cicely Tyson (her second film appearance); she passed away in early 2021. Noir icon Gloria Grahame makes a brief (yet important) appearance. The movie was praised highly by James Ellroy and influenced the work of Jean-Pierre Melville (a French director). The volatile chemistry between the three men is at the center of the movie. I liked the character development, on locations shots of NYC (incl. Central Park), and the slightly uneasy atmosphere. Jazz and Calypso music are played at the smoky club where Ingram performs.

[1] Good low budget heist film. Ryan’s character is one of the ugliest portrayals of a white racist in film. Belafonte’s character is one of the most multi-faceted and complex potrayals of an African American up until that time, and the performance doesn’t date at all. Wise keeps the pacing taut and the suspense high.

[2] Personally I found Belefonte’s contribution the most searing. He captures the role of the divorced father to a tee. The scene where he is awakened by his ex-wife after sleeping (ever so slightly) with is daughter is masterful. You can sense the longing in his heart for the nuclear family that once was.

[3] Wise wants to communicate a whole context, he wants to detail his characters to a fault. How many directors would dare that today? Robert Ryan’s part is very complex. First he seems friendly, but further acquaintance shows a lack of self-confidence (he’s getting old, he’s a washout, he wants to go for broke). And he is a racist. Rarely, this obnoxious feeling has been depicted with such wit.

-Excerpts from reviews on IMBD

Socially Conscious Noir: “Crossfire” (1947) starring Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, & Robert Ryan

Homicide Capt. Finlay (Robert Young) finds evidence that one or more of a group of soldiers is involved in the death of a middle-aged/kindly Jewish man, Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene). In flashbacks, we see the night’s events from different viewpoints, as Army Sgt. Keeley (a youngish Robert Mitchum) investigates on his own, trying to clear the sensitive/young Mitchell, to whom circumstantial evidence points. Then the real (and ugly) motive for the killing begins to dawn on both Finlay and Keeley. This was the breakout role for Robert Ryan, who played Montgomery, one of the experienced/jaded soldiers. Ryan didn’t like the negative aspects of his character- that resulted in him being typecast in villain roles. In real life, Ryan was a liberal progressive actively involved in the Civil Rights movement. A very young Gloria Grahame (who was loaned from MGM) plays a dancehall girl who meets Mitchell.

Finlay: Hating is always the same, always senseless. One day it kills Irish Catholics, the next day Jews, the next day Protestants, the next day Quakers. It’s hard to stop. It can end up killing men who wear striped neckties. Or people from Tennessee.

The film is based on Richard Brooks’ first novel, The Brick Foxhole (1945), written while he was a sergeant in the Marine Corps. One of the subplots dealt w/ homophobia, but that was changed to anti-Semitism. The decision was made by producer Adrian Scott (who purchased the rights) knowing that any depiction of homosexuality would not pass the Hayes Code. Brooks would write the screenplays for other notable noirs, incl. The Killers (1946) (uncredited), Brute Force (1947), Key Largo (1948), and Mystery Street (1950). Due to of the film’s tight (24 day) shooting schedule, it was able to beat the similarly-themed Gentleman’s Agreement to theaters by 3-1/2 months and stole some of its thunder. However, Oscar acclaim went to Gentleman’s Agreement, which won 3 out of its 8 noms, incl. Best Picture. Crossfire was overlooked; it had 5 noms. It has been suggested that one reason it didn’t win any Oscars was director Edward Dmytryk and Scott’s testimony before HUAC in late 1947. They refused to state whether they were, or had been, Communists and were subsequently blacklisted.

[1] Ryan, creates a fully shaded and frighteningly convincing portrait of an ignorant, unstable bigot; we see his phony geniality, his bullying, his resentment of anyone with advantages, his “Am I right or am I right?” smugness; how easily he slaps labels on people and what satisfaction he gets from despising them.

CROSSFIRE’s message seems cautious and dated now, though not nearly so much as GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT. […] The script seems afraid to mention any real contemporary problems. […] Still, it did take some guts to depict, immediately after World War II, an American who might have been happier in the Nazi army, and the movie’s basic premise is still valid.

[2] Crossfire is a “message” movie but it is also a cracking good drama, and that’s what I enjoyed about it. Plus the cast is dynamite – Roberts Preston, Mitchum and Ryan, and the beautiful Gloria Grahame. Mitchum doesn’t have a big a role as you might expect (the movie was released the same year as Out Of The Past in which he gives a much more substantial performance), but he’s always great to watch, and Robert Ryan steals the movie as a very nasty piece of work.

[3] As late as 1947, it was a big deal for a movie to announce that anti-Semitism existed, and that it was bad. (It was unthinkable, of course, for Hollywood to address the real subject of the book on which the movie was based- its victim was a homosexual.) Nevertheless, thanks to good writing and excellent acting, CROSSFIRE remains a persuasive examination of what we would now call a hate crime.

-Excerpts from IMBD reviews

“Star Trek: DS9” – Season 2, Episodes 1-3

Episode 1: The Homecoming

O’Brien: If they think scrawling a few signs is gonna get rid of us, they got another thing coming.

Sisko: Right now, they’re just trying to show us that we’re vulnerable.

Odo: I wouldn’t be overly concerned, Commander; this section is a low security area.

Sisko: As of now, Constable, there are no low security areas on the station.

Season 2 of the sci-fi series has a bigger budget, we see more sets, and more effective lighting is used. Quark receives a Bajoran earring from a smuggler. She says she received it on Cardassia IV; it needs to be delivered to Bajor (as any Bajoran will recognize it). Quark takes it to Kira; the earring belongs to Li Nalas, considered one of the greatest heroes of the Resistance. Kira asks Sisko for a runabout to rescue him. Bajor is on the verge of civil war; a group called The Circle wants to get rid of all aliens on Bajor. Odo finds their logo graffiti-ed on a wall in the space station. Jake is excited about his first date, though Cmdr. Sisko seems nervous. This teleplay was written by Ira Stephen Behr, who would go on to become showrunner in later seasons.

Sisko: I saw you, in front of the crowd on the promenade. They look at you, and they see strength, and honor, and decency. They look at you and they see the best in themselves.

Li Nalas: But it’s all based on a lie.

Sisko: No – it’s based on a legend. And legends are as powerful as any truth.

The scenes in the labor camp were shot in Soledad Canyon, north of LA. It was refreshing to be outdoors (off the station) for a while. The Cardassians said all political prisoners had been released; Gul Dukat apologizes (which is unexpected). Li Nalas (guest star Richard Beymer- Tony in West Side Story) says he became a hero by accident in a fine scene w/ Sisko. Frank Langella’s (Minister Jaro Essa) performances are uncredited (he did the show for his children, not exposure or money.) At the end of this ep, Minister Jaro declares Li Nalas the liaison officer, leaving Kira’s status uncertain.

I liked the frenemy scenes between Odo and Quark, which were a trademark of Behr’s writing. Beymer portrayed the reluctant hero well. I was very impressed w/ Langella (who even has a different posture when playing the politician to the crowd)! Kira and O’Brien made a good team during the rescue.

Episode 2: The Circle

Odo: [incensed] Major, you’ve been breaking one too many for fourteen and a half years! Cardassian rules, Bajoran rules, Federation rules, they’re all meaningless to you. Because you have a personal code, that’s always mattered more. And I’m sorry to say, you’re in slim company.

Major Kira: [softly] I’ll miss you too, Odo.

Jaro explains the reason for Li Nalas on DS9 is unrest on Bajor. Kira goes to have a rest at the monastery, as suggested by Vedek Bareil. She sees one of the Orbs of Prophecy. Sisko wants to get Kira back as his second in command. He sees Krim (Stephen Macht), the leader of the Bajoran military forces. The Circle is planning to overthrow the provisional government; if all non-Bajorans are expelled, they lose Federation protection. Quark tells Odo he knows who is supplying weapons to The Circle. We get a Game of Thrones-type scene (before the HBO show aired) w/ Minster Jaro and Vedek Winn.

Minister Jaro [to Winn]: We’re a match made by the Prophets.

I always thought it was too bad that the casting director didn’t get a better actor to play Bareil. I hadn’t seen this arc of eps before, but saw him over the course of the series. I know Bareil and Kira are supposed to be attracted to each other, but they lack chemistry. There is good (evil) chemistry between Fletcher and Langella; their plotting scene was great! The goodbye scene in Kira’s quarters was well-done (w/ both serious and light moments).

Episode 3: The Siege

Nog: Has there ever been one of your kind and one of my kind who were better friends?

Jake Sisko: Never.

Nog: And if our fathers couldn’t break us up, no stupid coup d’é… coup… coup-coup d’é…

Jake Sisko: Coup d’état. It’s French.

Nog: And no stupid French thing will either!

The Federation must evacuate the station, but Sisko has no intentions of leaving. He has come to care about what happens to the Bajorans. Sisko, O’Brien, Bashir, Odo, and a few others will try to delay the takeover as long as possible, until the truth re: who is supplying weapons can be revealed. Kira will take evidence to the Chamber of Ministers, but all the runabouts are in use for the evacuation. Li Nalas thinks there might be raiders intact on the Lunar V base; Kira and Dax set off to find out.

This conclusion was written by Michael Piller, co-creator of the series. Awww, poor Keiko and Molly- O’Brien chose his job over family! Quark gets tricked by his brother Rom (which is quite rare, but good to see). Kira and Dax have some light/fun moments, even while facing danger. Also, look out for Steven Weber (who was then starring in Wings). Hmmm, maybe he was a fan of ST universe also?


[1] This was an excellent episode in terms of building up a sense of DS9 as being more then a space station – a home for these people and they fight to protect it and the potential future it represents for the Federation and Bajor.

[2] I like this side of Sisko and he is much more assertive and interesting in part three!

[3] The action scenes in this episode were pretty good and there were a few fun scenes too…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

 

“Star Trek: TNG” – Season 6, Episodes 16 & 17 (“Birthright, Parts I & II”)

Part I

[Dr. Bashir has commented on Data’s more “human” attributes.]
Data: Most people are interested in my extraordinary abilities – how fast I can compute, my memory capacity, how long I will live. No one has ever asked me if my hair will grow, or noticed that I can breathe.
Bashir: Well, your creator went to a lot of trouble to make you seem human. I find that fascinating.

This TNG ep (written by Brannon Braga and edited by Rene Echevarria) originally aired between “Q-less” and “Dax” in S1 of DS9. While the Enterprise helps repair damages to DS9, a mysterious alien (James Cromwell) approaches Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn), claiming his father wasn’t killed in the battle of Khitomer 25 yrs ago, but is still alive and held in a Romulan prison camp. At first, Worf rebuffs this, for the dishonor it would bring his family. He changes his mind after talking to Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner). Lt. La Forge (LeVar Burton) helps Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) conduct an experiment w/ alien technology (found in the Gamma Quadrant). The equipment surges w/ power and a plasma shock knocks out Data. He experiences a vision of his “father” (creator), Dr. Noonien Soong.

Dr. Soong: I wasn’t sure you’d ever develop the cognitive abilities to make it this far, but if you’re here, if you can see me… you’ve crossed over the threshold from being a collection of circuits and subprocessors and have started a wonderful journey.

I enjoyed the youthful enthusiasm Bashir brought to this ep; he and Data (who is one of my favorites on TNG) get some nice moments. The doctor wants to know more re: the android’s “humanity.” We find out Data can grow hair, has a pulse, and can breathe if he wants to. Data and Worf have a fine scene in 10 Forward. I really liked the scene where Picard explains to Data that “he is a culture or one, and no less valid” than any other culture. Data’s paintings connected to his “dream” are pretty good. Spiner gets to stretch himself by also playing Dr. Soong.

Part II

Tokath: We’ve put aside the old hatreds. Here, Romulans and Klingons live in peace. I won’t allow you to destroy what we have.

Lt. Worf: Do not deceive yourself. These people are not happy here. I see the sadness in their eyes.

Tokath: That’s not what I see when I look in my wife’s eyes. I married a Klingon. So you see, when I warn you not to disrupt our lives here, I’m not speaking just as a jailor; but as a man protecting his family.

This ep was written by Echevarria and edited by Braga. These two writers, as well as Ron Moore, were esp. interested in the Klingons. In TOS, the Klingons are one-note bad guys; they are developed more in TNG and also play crucial role in DS9. Many fans complained that here was no further exploration of Data’s visions. We never uncover the mystery of the device Bashir had (and he doesn’t appear even in the ep).

Toq: Today I learned the ritual hunt, but that is not all I learned. I discovered that warriors’ blood runs through my veins. I do not know how, or why, but we have forgotten ourselves. Our stories are not told, our songs are not sung!

After discovering survivors from the Romulan attack on Khitomer (which established peace between the Klingons and the Federation), Worf resists becoming one of them. The elders explain that it’s not a prison, as they’ve chosen to remain, since returning would dishonor their families. Worf begins to teach the younger Klingons about their ancestry and tradition. A young woman becomes interested in Worf. Dorn gets to carry this ep, which he is very capable of doing. Though I’ve heard some women fans say that Worf is “a symbol of toxic masculinity,” he slowly evolves into well-rounded character over his time on TNG, the movies, and (later) on DS9.

[1] Overall a very mixed episode; some good moments but also some uncomfortable themes.

[2] This is the first time we get to hear actual Klingon music...

And in true Worf fashion, he never backs down. …Worf’s obsession with Klingon Duty, Honour and Principles could be at times, tiresome.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Star Trek: DS9” – Season 1, Episode 3 (“A Man Alone”)

Jake (Cirroc Lofton) makes friends w/ a teenage Ferengi, Nog (Aron Eisenberg), Quark’s nephew and prone to act mischievous. Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) argues w/ his wife Keiko (Rosalind Chao- who co-starred in The Joy Luck Club also in 1993), who hasn’t adjusted to life on DS9. On the Enterprise (TNG), Keiko was a botanist, but now she has no work. Odo (Rene Auberjonois) doesn’t see what’s so great about being a couple, as he comments to Quark (Armin Shimerman). This is a fun scene w/ actors who can do both comedy and drama. You also see their chemistry w/ each other as frenemies. Lt. Dax (Terry Farrell) explains to Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) that her species don’t go seeking romantic relationships. I like the charm and confidence Farrell shows, even in early eps. Siddig also brings the charm, yet his character has much more naivete.

Sisko: [to Odo] If you can’t work within the rules I’ll find someone who can.

The A-story focuses on Odo, the shape-shifting constable w/ a strong sense of justice who is caught up in a mystery. Odo sees a familiar face on the Promenade, the Bajoran smuggler Ibudan, and gives him a day (26 hours in this world) to get off the station. Sisko (Avery Brooks) says that the man hasn’t done anything wrong, so Odo can’t just kick him out. Odo tells of how Ibudan once let a child die b/c the parents couldn’t afford medicine. Ibudan also killed a Cardassian w/o provocation during the Occupation, so Odo turned him in. When Ibudan is murdered on one of the holodecks, Odo becomes the prime suspect. However, things are not as they seem!

Quark: [about Odo] He’s an ill-tempered, overbearing, cross-patch. But he was no Cardassian collaborator, and he’s no killer.

Zayra: I can’t believe you’re defending him, Quark. You’re his worst enemy.

Quark: Guess that’s the closest thing he has in this world to a friend.

There are a lines and scenes which wouldn’t be out of place on a cop show. Kira (Nana Visitor) says that Odo is “the most honorable man on the station.” The actress really seemed comfortable w/ her character from the start of the series. Dax and Bashir sift through evidence gathered at the murder scene and on the ship which Ibudan came on, trying to solve the crime. Some Bajorans on the station, incl. Zayra (Edward Laurence Albert- son of actor Eddie Albert) grow very suspicious of Odo. He is unlike anyone else in this community and worked under the Cardassians for some years. After Odo is relieved of duty by Sisko (for his own safety), he goes to his office. We see that it has been trashed; along one wall, the word “SHIFTER” can be seen. A mob gathers outside and Sisko calls in security to prevent damage and violence.

Keiko’s plan to start a school for the few kids on the station was a practical idea. Sisko liked the idea very much and Jake had grown bored of studying alone w/ a computer (which is what many kids are doing in quarantine). I liked the scene where Keiko convinced Nog’s father, Rom (Max Grodenchik), to allow him to attend. Rom is portrayed as confident and decisive, which changes drastically later in the show. There is an ep focused on Keiko’s teaching at the end of the season which fans esp. comment about.

[1] I enjoy how DS9 gets to work on establishing it’s characters right away– the payoff doesn’t come for quite a while but damn is it delicious when it does.

[2] …the conflict between Odo’s sense of justice and Starfleet rules will be done much better in later episodes…

[3] Odo – who really is a man alone – must learn to trust others to help him figure this one out and clear him of suspicion.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews