Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: The Odds

"The Odds" reminds me of The Twilight Zone, and that's a good thing. Unlike some of the other episodes of Tales from the Darkside that feel like rehashes superior efforts from that show, "The Odds" feels like it could have been an episode of The Twilight Zone. Here, we get a tense, strongly acted, and economic story that could have been written by Rod Serling. The only way to have improved it would have been to film it in black and white.

Danny Aiello plays Tom Vale, a bookie who never refuses a bet. Tom Noonan plays Bill Lacey, a man from Vale's past who always bets the long odds and always wins. Lacey bets that by 8:00 the next morning, Vale will die of natural causes, and Vale takes him up on the offer. That's the plot.

I can see "The Odds" working as a one-act play. It's got one setting - a bar - and in fact, not only is most of the action restricted to the bar, most of it is restricted to one booth in the corner of the bar, where a single light dangles down between the characters. There are three minor characters, but only one of them, Vale's lackey Horace, gets any dialogue. There aren't any devils, zombies, monsters, witches, or scenes of characters being stalked, and the only overtly supernatural occurrence that we witness occurs at the very end.  The conflict is revealed and developed through dialogue and performances, a rarity in this genre, TV or otherwise.

The action is often framed with Vale and Lacey sitting across from each other - Vale, loud, sweaty, and blustering with his suspenders out, a smoke in his hand and a beer at his side while Lacey, in his neat white suit and Panama hat, and reserved, quieter demeanor. There's no shortage of tight closeups on their face, each man trying to hide his nervousness and project confidence, proving that the human face is often the most interesting subject on celluloid (although shots of the ticking clock on the wall and the beeping a calculator/clock that Horace has get more nerve-wracking as the story progresses). The two make a great contrast to each other, and the fun of the episode is watching these two guys try to out nerve each other.

Aiello and Noonan are outstanding. I just wanted to watch them keep talking, and I almost feel ripped off that this is only a twenty-minute episode. The final twist might seem unlikely given that Lacey is established as having supernatural knowledge from beyond the grave, but it seems fitting to Vale's character. "The Odds" shows show how he ends up winning and losing, but you can't help but admire how brash he remains to the very end.

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