The Defiant Ones

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The Defiant Ones
Defiant Ones poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Written by Nedrick Young (story)
Harold Jacob Smith
Starring Tony Curtis
Sidney Poitier
Theodore Bikel
Cara Williams
Music by Ernest Gold
Cinematography Sam Leavitt
Edited by Frederic Knudtson
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • July 1958 (1958-07) (Berlin)
  • September 24, 1958 (1958-09-24) (New York City)
Running time 97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $778,000[1]

The Defiant Ones is a 1958 black and white film which tells the story of two escaped prisoners, one white and one black, who are shackled together and who must co-operate in order to survive. It stars Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, Theodore Bikel, Cara Williams, Charles McGraw, and Lon Chaney, Jr.. Ivan Dixon was a stunt double for Sidney Poitier

The film was adapted by Harold Jacob Smith from the story by Nedrick Young, originally credited as Nathan E. Douglas. It was directed by Stanley Kramer.

Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, of the Our Gang comedies, has a small role. It was his last before his death.

Plot[edit]

The film starts with a truck driving at night. It swerves to miss another truck and crashes through a barrier. The rescuers clear up the debris and cover the people killed... mainly prisoners in the back. It is revealed that two are missing: a black man shackled to a white man, because "the warden had a sense of humour". They are told not to look too hard as "they will probably kill each other in the first five miles". Nevertheless a large posse and many bloodhounds are dispatched the next morning to find them.

The setting is in the American South, the men are the black Noah Cullen (Poitier) and the white John "Joker" Jackson (Curtis). Despite their mutual loathing, they are forced to cooperate, as they are chained together. At first their cooperation is motivated by self-preservation but gradually, they begin to respect and like each other.

Cullen and Joker flee through difficult terrain and weather, with a brief stop at a turpentine camp where they attempt to break into a general store, in hopes of obtaining food and tools to break the chain that holds them together. Instead, however, they are captured by the inhabitants, who form a lynch mob; they are saved only by the interference of "Big" Sam (Chaney), a man who is appalled by his neighbors' bloodthirst. Sam persuades the onlookers to lock the convicts up and turn them in the morning, but that night, he secretly releases them, after revealing to them that he is also a former chain-gang prisoner.

Finally, they run into a young boy named Billy. They make him take them to his home and his mother (Williams), whose husband has abandoned his family. The escapees are finally able to break their chains. When they spend the night there, the lonely woman is attracted to Joker and wants to run off with him. She advises Cullen to go through the swamp to reach the railroad tracks, while she and Joker drive off in her car. The men agree to split up. However, after Cullen leaves, the woman reveals that she had lied - she sent Cullen into the dangerous swamp to die to eliminate any chance he would be captured and perhaps reveal where Joker had gone. Furious, Joker runs after his friend; as he leaves, Billy shoots him.

Wounded, Joker catches up to Cullen and warns him about the swamp. As the posse led by humane Sheriff Max Muller (Bikel) gets close, the escapees can hear the dogs hot on their trail. But they also hear a train whistle and run towards the sound. Cullen hops the train and tries to lift Joker on as well, but is unable to drag him aboard. Both men tumble to the ground. Too exhausted to run anymore, they realize all they can do is wait for their pursuers. The sheriff finds Cullen singing defiantly and Joker nearly passed out in his arms.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Robert Mitchum, a veteran of a Southern chain gang, turned down the role of Jackson because blacks and whites would never be chained together in the segregated South. The story was corrupted into the claim, repeated by Curtis and others, that Mitchum refused to work with a black man. Kramer wrote that Poitier was initially unsure of Curtis' casting but became supportive. Curtis, however, denied this; he stated that he had contractual rights to approve who would play Cullen. However, despite Curtis' many later claims and stories, Kramer had originally cast Poitier and Marlon Brando as the two leads when a previous contractual obligation prevented Poitier from being able to accept the role. Kramer wanted Poitier for the role so badly that he delayed the films production, which led to Brando having to decline because the delay caused shooting to overlap with another obligation he had. Curtis was cast afterwards. Curtis did request Poitier's name appear with his above the movie title marking a first for Poitier in his career.[2][3]:30,280–281[4]

Reception[edit]

The film made a profit of $1 million.[1]

Critical response[edit]

When the film was first released, Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, lauded the production and the acting in the film, writing, "A remarkably apt and dramatic visualization of a social idea—the idea of men of different races brought together to face misfortune in a bond of brotherhood — is achieved by producer Stanley Kramer in his new film, The Defiant Ones... Between the two principal performers there isn't much room for a choice. Mr. Poitier stands out as the Negro convict and Mr. Curtis is surprisingly good. Both men are intensely dynamic. Mr. Poitier shows a deep and powerful strain of underlying compassion...In the ranks of the pursuers, Theodore Bikel is most impressive as a sheriff with a streak of mercy and justice, which he has to fight to maintain against a brutish state policeman, played by Charles McGraw."[5]

Likewise, Variety magazine, praised the acting and discussed the film's major theme, writing, "The theme of The Defiant Ones is that what keeps men apart is their lack of knowledge of one another. With that knowledge comes respect, and with respect comradeship and even love. This thesis is exercised in terms of a colored and a white man, both convicts chained together as they make their break for freedom from a Southern prison gang. The performances by Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier are virtually flawless. Poitier captures all of the moody violence of the convict, serving time because he assaulted a white man who had insulted him. It is a cunning, totally intelligent portrayal that rings powerfully true...Curtis delivers a true surprise performance. He starts off as a sneering, brutal character, willing to fight it out to-the-death with his equally stubborn companion. When, in the end, he sacrifices a dash for freedom to save Poitier, he has managed the transition with such skill that sympathy is completely with him."[6]

Awards[edit]

Won
Nominated

Remakes, tributes and parodies[edit]

The basis of The Defiant Ones was revisited several times in popular media:

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company The Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 143
  2. ^ Private Screenings: Tony Curtis. Turner Classic Movies, January 19, 1999.
  3. ^ Server, Lee (2001). Robert Mitchum: "Baby I Don't Care". St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-26206-X. 
  4. ^ . Turner Classic Movies, January 16, 2012.
  5. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, September 25, 1958. Last accessed: February 23, 2011.
  6. ^ Variety, film review, September 24, 1958. Last accessed: February 23, 2011.
  7. ^ "Awards for The Defiant Ones". IMDb.com. Retrieved July 19, 2009. 
  8. ^ a b "Berlinale 1958: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved January 4, 2010. 

External links[edit]