Two escaped prisoners, one black and one white, are chained
together and must work together to escape the pursuing lawmen.
The Defiant Ones (1958)
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Written by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith
Starring Sidney Poitier, Tony Curtis, Theodore Bikel,
Charles McGraw, Cara Williams, Lon Chaney Jr.,
King Donovan, Claude Akins, Kevin Coughlin
Oscar Wins - Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Actor (Sidney Poitier),
Best Actor (Tony Curtis), Best Supporting Actor (Theodore Bikel), Best Supporting Actress (Cara Williams), Best Director,
Best Film Editing
There were few movies made in the first half of the 20th century that treated race relations in the United States with dignity, and actually used the film itself to shine a spotlight on the way African Americans were perceived in modern society at the time. The Defiant Ones has some story problems, but it never falters from its interesting and unique depiction of an unlikely friendship between a black prisoner and a white prisoner who are on the run. Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis are both fantastic, leading a landmark film in Oscar history and putting Stanley Kramer on the map as one of the finest directors of the 20th century.
After a prison truck crashes, prisoners Noah Cullen (Poitier) and John "Joker" Jackson (Curtis) escape. They're chained together at the wrist, and must work together to escape the police who are hunting them. Joker is a racist, and Cullen is a black man who doesn't take any racist shit. So, it's difficult. There are times when they're budding friendship feels a little forced, but overall it's a well-developed scenario with an ending that makes sense. My biggest gripe is how quickly Billy's Mother (Williams) falls for Joker, the convict who threatens her at gunpoint for food and shelter. It hasn't aged well.
The Defiant Ones is a solid adventure drama featuring two great lead performers at their best. As I said, it doesn't have the strongest story. It's mostly just the two convicts running from some highly unmotivated cops, with the occasional segue into a town of racists or a horny, unhappy housewife. But the chemistry between Poitier and Curtis, as well as their conversations, make this film one worth watching.