Written by: James Steven Sadwith, Carole Lucia Satrina
Directed by: James Steven Sadwith
Starring: Danny Aiello, Tom Noonan, and Robert Weil
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"Never underestimate the power of the human will."
One of the cool things about the 80s anthology fad--from Tales from the Darkside all the way down to stuff like Freddy’s Nightmares--is the revolving door of familiar faces that would show up from week to week. It’s a roster that’s only become more impressive in retrospect, as so many folks who weren’t quite big stars yet would show up along established performers and industry vets. Tales from the Darkside especially became a haven for cult favorites and stars alike, but it was especially kind to the former, as it boasts a veritable cavalcade of “that guys” (including the ultimate “That Guy” in Dick Miller), those character actors whose faces have become etched in the cult canon. One of the earliest (and best) examples is “The Odds,” starring Danny Aiello and Tom Noonan, both of whom were well on their way to establishing formidable résumés.
Aiello is Tom Vale, a bookie operating out of a dimly-lit, smoky bar that just screams “seedy.” He’s an old school type who relies only on his own gut instincts, a pencil, and his brain to ensure he never gets cheated. On the back of a mysterious, cool breeze, a tall man in a white suit (Noonan) appears with a Cheshire cat smile. He’s here to make a bet with long odds, so long in fact that Vale is hesitant to take the poor sap’s money. But when the horse the mysterious stranger backs defies the overwhelming odds, Vale is shocked. He’s even more aghast when the stranger insists on immediately using his winnings to place another bet with long odds. Because he never refuses a bet, Vale agrees, putting him on the path to financial and spiritual ruin as the stranger’s intentions come into focus.
“The Odds” is one of those exemplary episodes of the Darkside formula. There’s not much to it since it boasts only a handful of performers and a single location; however, something about it just captures the imagination, almost all of it owing to Noonan’s signature, slippery presence. There’s a reason Noonan has so often been cast as strange, off-putting characters: he just has this vibe about him that’s enigmatic, and “The Odds” thrives off his uneasy energy. His slightly unreal presence foreshadows an obvious supernatural turn of events, and his cool, easy-going demeanor starts to border on something sinister. Aiello matches Noonan’s cool detachment with a different kind of bravado: he’s a fast talker who carries himself in such a cocksure manner that you’re sure he’s going to defy the odds himself when this mysterious stranger ups the ante with a final wager involving Vale’s very life itself.
It culminates with a twist, albeit one viewers might not expect. Where so many Darkside tales climax with protagonists suddenly slipping into a grim fate like cartoon characters with the rug yanked from beneath them, Vale meets his destiny with a wry fatalism. He might not completely beat the odds, but he fudges the numbers just enough to get a taste of victory as he expires, sweat-soaked and wheezing his last breaths in his familiar booth. Never bet against an old, grizzled bookie, even if you have supernatural forces aiding your cause. Even in the Darkside, the house always wins.
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