Properly chilled and precisely diced, "Odds Against" makes an appetizing entry in the PBS, Mobil-funded, slickly packaged "Mystery" series. The first of three one-hour films adapted from a Dick Francis novel airs tonight at 9 on Channel 26.
Francis, who turned mystery writer after being injured as a jockey, created a sleuth hero not unlike himself. Private eye Sid Halley, played by the charismatically sullen Mike Gwilym, goes from a set of silks to a set of sulks after his hand is injured in a steeplechase accident.
Halley is coaxed out of the mopes by his waspish father-in-law ("remember when Jenny married you over my dead body?") because there has been a "very nasty series of accidents" at Seabury race course. Reluctantly Halley investigates and is soon drawn into a life of crime detection, replete with chancey encounters and brutish thugs.
Director Lawrence Gordon Clark and writer Terence Feely maintain a tantalizing air of faint pervesity which harkens back to the film noir detective stories of the '40s, and the principal villian is deliciously rotten. dOnly in an unfortunate burst of sadism directed toward Halley's injured hand does the film seem excessively sick.
"Odds Against" is really more a British response to the American cop show than a black-tie whodunit. Halley is to be outfitted with a nearly bionic artificial hand and he has a karate-kicking compatriot. But it's odd how a little wit, atmosphere and ingenuity can spruce up a mundane conception. This is a statisfying and sinister piece of business indeed.