Day 27 of Noirvember: Earle Slater in Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on the fatally flawed Earle Slater in Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Earle Slater: A mass of contradictions.


Odds Against Tomorrow involves a bank heist engineered by bitter ex-cop David Burke (Ed Begley). To help him carry out his plot, Burke recruits a bigoted ex-con, Earle Slater (Robert Ryan), and a black musician (Harry Belafonte), which makes for – as you might imagine – quite a volatile undertaking.


When we first see Earle, he’s walking purposefully down a street (143rd, to be exact) on a windy day in New York City. A group of children, pretending to be airplanes, run past him; the last child, a little black girl, collides with Earle. He picks her up with a smile: “You little pickaninny,” he says with a pleasant southern accent. “You’re gonna kill yourself flyin’ like that, yes you are.” He enters the Hotel Juno, where the elevator operator is a young black man (Mel Stewart). The young man makes small talk with Earle, remarking about the sound of the high wind outside, and jokingly comparing his job to flying airplanes. His smile slowly fades, though, when Earle doesn’t say a word to him, but seems to stare right through him, as if he doesn’t exist.

It’s noir.


He’s obviously a racist, but he’s also a mass of contradictions. There’s that opening scene, where he’s gentle and playful with the little black girl, and unnecessarily rude and contemptuous toward the black elevator operator. At times, he can be trusting, even needy, with his devoted girlfriend, Lorry (Shelley Winters), but on other occasions, he’s disrespectful and insulting. When he stops in a local bar, he gets into a dust-up with a soldier who won’t stop needling him – when Earle lays him out with a single punch, a look of triumph flashes across his face, but he’s filled with remorse a second later: “I didn’t mean to hurt him.”


”Don’t worry about it, boy. We’ll be right there with you. All you have to do is carry the sandwiches. In a white monkey jacket. And give a big smile. And say, ‘Yessir.’ You don’t have to worry and you don’t have to think.”


Robert Bushnell Ryan was born on November 11, 1909 (some sources give 1911 or 1913 as the year), in Chicago, Illinois. His father started him on boxing lessons at the age of eight; when he enrolled in Dartmouth College, he became the first freshman to win the college’s heavyweight boxing championship – a title he held throughout his four years of intercollegiate competition. After graduation, Ryan toiled at a series of jobs, from digging sewer tunnels to supervising supplies for the Chicago Board of Education. Finally, in 1936, he joined an amateur theater group in Chicago and after two years with the group, he headed for Hollywood, where he enrolled in the Max Reinhardt Workshop. He made his professional stage debut in Two Many Husbands in 1940, attracted the attention of Paramount talent scout, and signed a contract with the studio. (Ironically, he’d made a screen test for the studio two years earlier, but was told that he was “not the right type.”) He made his big screen debut in Golden Gloves (1940), playing a bit part as a boxer. His first noir came several years later, with Crossfire (1947).

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 27, 2021.

6 Responses to “Day 27 of Noirvember: Earle Slater in Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)”

  1. I found this quote back in 2013 for a look at the movie: In a 1959 interview in Ebony magazine, Ryan stated he thought it would be “a dangerous step for me to take professionally…audiences are composed of people with varying degrees of sophistication and understanding and there are many who do not separate actors from the characters they portray.” Ryan relented after reading the script which he thought “says something of real significance and says it well, dramatically, without preaching.”

  2. Robert Ryan played characters that you knew were disturbed before the war, but the war made them irredeemably crazy. The war finished them off. And that’s a fairly complex backstory to convey with no words. Earle Slater is an inverse variation of that theme. Earle had innate goodness in him, but he was irredeemably stunted. It’s a more psychologically sophisticated version of the disturbed characters Robert Ryan played so well.

  3. Somehow Ryan managed to elicit some sympathy even for his most unprepossessing characters because they were always multi-faceted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: