THE DEFIANT ONES, 1958
Cast: Tony Curtis, Sydney Poitier, Theodore Bikel, Charles McGraw, Lon Chaney Jr., King Donovan
Two escaped convicts chained together, white and black, must learn to get along in order to elude capture.
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An African American prisoner Noah Cullen (Poitier) and a racist John Jackson (Curtis) are changed together heading towards their execution. Together theyíre able to escape and despite their dislike for each other, they have to put aside their differences and work together. Over time they develop mutual respect for one another and eventually a friendship rooted in comradeship.
Throughout the film both John and Noah are at odds. Constantly bickering and fighting, they try desperately to find break the chains so they can go their separate ways. But with no luck. What makes this film so powerful are the strong performances from Curtis and Poitier, both actors were at the top of their game at the time and their talent and skills as actors comes through with profound effects.
Part of the appeal of the Defiant Ones and one of the reasons itís so memorable is because it addresses the social issues that were prevalent during the 50ís and never looks down on either race. It simply puts two unlikely people together, who believe they have nothing in common and are different because of their race, and force them to work together. Itís a powerful and profound film with a poignant message that still resonates today.
The Defiant Ones was groundbreaking. Addressing issues that were so sensitive and handling the social issues with respect and maturity, it allowed people to accept that itís okay to talk about such issues. The message shows that people need to talk about such issues and find a way to resolve them.
The most powerful image comes from the last few moments of the film in which Noah is riding on the train trying to pull up an injured John who runs to keep up. Their hands touch, black and white, locked together, and although he could let go and ride away, Noah falls down with his new friend. They accept their fate just as they accept their friendship.
The storyline is simple and only controversial because of the subject matter it focuses on. However, the remarkable performances from both actors elevate this film from its bland plot and provide an entertaining and captivating take on the controversial topics of that era. Poitier is not speaking for the African American race however he is taking a stand against any form of oppression and rising above it. But what makes his character even more heroic in a sense, is that Curtis helps him while rising above his own prejudice. The movie works on many levels.
The Defiant Ones needs to be seen for its excellent and poignant performances by the stellar cast as well as the universal message it delicately and at times painfully presents. There is no villain, other than the pursuers, as Curtis is a product of his environment and whose ignorance is challenged and dispelled with during his time with Poitier. The Defiant Ones was powerful with its arguable message, yet it remains an important cultural and social film that still means something today.