The Defiant Ones

1958

The Defiant Ones

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.

81%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 21

88%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,130
User image

The Defiant Ones Photos

Movie Info

Convicts Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier escape from a chain gang. Curtis' character, John "Joker" Jackson, hates blacks, while Poitier's character, Noah Cullen, hates whites. However, the men are manacled together, forced to rely on each other to survive. Captured at one point by a lynch-happy mob, the convicts are rescued by Big Sam (Lon Chaney Jr.), himself a former convict. The men are later sheltered by a lonely, love-hungry widow played by Cara Williams, who offers to turn in Cullen if Joker will stay with her. By the time the two men are within hailing distance of a train that might take them to freedom, they have become friends. The script for The Defiant Ones is credited to Harold Jacob Smith and Nathan E. Douglas. The latter was really Nedrick Young, a blacklisted writer, whom producer Stanley Kramer hired knowing full well that Young was using an alias (when "Douglas"' credit appears onscreen, it is superimposed over a close-up of a truck driver -- played by Nedrick Young). Both the script and the photography by Sam Leavitt won Academy Awards. If you look closely, you'll notice that the actor playing Angus is former Little Rascal Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, making his last screen appearance. The Defiant Ones was remade for TV in 1986, with Robert Urich and Carl Weathers in the leads.

Watch it now

Cast

News & Interviews for The Defiant Ones

Critic Reviews for The Defiant Ones

All Critics (21) | Top Critics (4)

  • The performances by Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier are virtually flawless.

    Feb 19, 2009 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • Kramer was never much of a director, but there's still power in some of the performances, especially Poitier's.

    Nov 7, 2007 | Full Review…
  • The suspense of the manhunt in the swamps never really overcomes the dead weight of Kramer's 'message', but pleasures are to be found in the supporting roles of McGraw and Chaney.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…
  • It is nervous and suspenseful from the start.

    May 20, 2003 | Full Review…
  • Curtis is good but it's Poitier whose characterisation of barely concealed rage propels events forward.

    Oct 31, 2018 | Full Review…
  • The film is predictable, even unoriginal; it says nothing new, but it reasserts things that cannot be said too often, and says them with force, gravity and even humour. It leaves a good taste behind.

    Jul 12, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Defiant Ones

  • Apr 11, 2018
    A morality tale w/o a lot a finesse, this late 50's era story literally chains together two opposing views and lets them play out against each other while on the run from "The Man". The saving grace is the performance of the leads who lend some small humanity and believability to the rote and didactic "educational" format, which often lacks even continuity. Still, a historical American experience on film.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • Aug 26, 2014
    "Come on, baby, shake all night long, shake until the meat come off of the bone, 'cause I'm a defiant one!" I can't believe that I managed to find a film that's about as old as that song, that is, the original Johnny O'Keefe one (I think by mentioning his name, I automatically became older), but it's fitting that they should come out around the same time, because this film is also about some wild children. That's right, two wild children find themselves on an adventure of a lifetime when they escape from prison, chained together, to some crazy shenanigans, so you know that this is going to be one seriously wacky ride, because it's by Stanley Kramer, the guy who did "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"... but did "Judgment at Nuremberg" first. I guess not all Kramers are racist (Michael Richards isn't, but because he's white, he can't offend black people without having his career nearly destroyed. ...Meditate on that for a second), because even though this film isn't as good as "Judgment at Nuremburg", it's a real "black-and-white" drama about overcoming prejudice that you know is an allegory for civil rights, seeing as how Kramer loved making "message films" almost as much as Sidney Poitier. This film is almost ten years older than "In the Heat of the Night", but Hollywood was already using Poitier as a poster child for civil rights in film, probably because white people were thoroughly charmed even by proto-Morgan Freeman (This is the real dark knight). Undoubtedly, it helps that this film is quite good, and pretty entertaining, that is, until slow spots set in. There's plenty of momentum to the story and its telling, so the dull spots which might derive from a shortage on score work go overcome more often than not, but not consistently, for there are moments in which Stanley Kramer's direction focuses a little too thoughtfully on nothing going on, or something taking too long to go on, resulting in bland slow spells in a film which is too short to afford dragging its feet. The film manages to save some time through expository lapses, beginning with a lack of immediate characterization, followed by a body that is pretty well-nuanced in plenty of places, but sometimes rather undercooked, at least enough to really distinguish roles which are conceptually ambiguous enough to begin with. Police antagonists do some low-down deeds, while criminal protagonists gradually showcase humanity, but take a smidge too long to do so, thus, this film is defined with a certain moral ambiguity that shakes your investment, further shaken by aspects which are anything but ambiguous. There are a few lapses in subtlety in this film, and when they do come into play, they're hardly severe in this mostly surprisingly subtle drama, but subtlety lapses do stand, and their contrast from the more genuine storytelling touches make them more glaring in their trying a little too hard to flesh out the thematic depths which this story probably wouldn't be much without. Well, this story is fairly compelling, even in concept, and its execution really brings its value to light, but with all of my mild complaints about pacing, exposition and subtlety, its natural shortcomings which most threaten this short film. If this film wasn't a little ahead of its time in its dramatic thoughtfulness and bite, then the final product might have fallen as underwhelming, for its natural shortcomings stand firm, and the slow spells and shortcomings in characterization and subtlety aren't anything to completely ignore. Still, if you manage to embrace the strengths through the shortcomings, then you will surely be rewarded, for this film is classic good storytelling, and even good-looking. Being that this is a black-and-white film in more than just one way, Sam Leavitt's cinematography is only subtly impressive, but it is impressive, with some tasteful plays on lighting which take advantage of the technical limitations of this $778 thousand flick for some gritty visuals which help in immersing you into this adventure film, with the help of distinct locations that often run together, but always help in selling the scale of this story. There is certainly plenty of dynamicity to this adventure drama, and yet, like I said, there are natural shortcomings, because Nedrick Young's story is mostly minimalist enough to be intimate with its characters, and that is a formula that can go wrong, but is done enough justice for you to get a firm grip on themes regarding anything from the human heart of the criminal, to race relations. This subject matter owes a lot of its effectiveness to Harold Jacob Smith's intelligent script, which has its thin spots, but is mostly sharp with its dialogue and is very believable in a lot of its generally extensive characterization, whose heights in subtlety were ahead of their time, and brought to life by subtle storytelling. There are actually only a few subtlety lapses, and most all of them can be found within an otherwise clever script, because director Stanley Kramer graces this film with a grace and taste that was uncommon at the time and still resonates on today's standards, whether it be establishing tension in the hunt, or a sense of real, human emotion to the portrayals of the characters and their story. Although it is even compelling in concept, this story is so sensitive in its weight that its interpretation could have easily fallen flat, but the storytelling is so inspired, so tasteful that so much life is brought out in this drama, thus, the final product has a reward value that is fully secured by the film's cast. When used, Theodore Bikel is convincing as a sheriff passionate about finding escaped convicts, and when Cara Williams eventually enters, as an important role, she is effective as a woman seeking a new life and to do away with loneliness, but it's the leads who really carry this film, with Tony Curtis, as an angry white prisoner who wants a lavish life, and finds a more meaningful one on the path to freedom, and Sidney Poitier, as a colored prisoner wanting freedom and respect, delivering on outstanding charisma and nuance, flavored up by dynamite chemistry. It's almost a delight to watch this duo work together towards freedom and humanity, even though this film thrives so much on intensity, thus, Curtis and Poitier feed entertainment value about as much as they feed an engagement value that keeps consistent enough throughout this drama to overcome natural and consequential shortcomings, and make a pretty rewarding final product. When the chains are broken, slow spots, underdeveloped areas, moral ambiguities and the occasional subtlety issue tumble upon the natural shortcomings of this promising, but brief story, intensifying them and threatening a compellingness that is firmly secured by the handsome cinematography, immersive locations, intelligent writing, subtly solid direction, and strong performances by and chemistry between Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier which make Stanley Kramer's "The Defiant Ones" a tense, thought-provoking and ultimately rewarding on two men of two different worlds seeking the same kind of freedom, and finding their humanity along the way. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jul 26, 2013
    I saw this one after Tony Curtis had passed away and thought that both he and Sidney Poitier did an excellent job in working out their characters' racist leanings which they were compelled to do as a matter of survival. Very powerful.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • May 04, 2013
    Everyone should have a life-changing event like this. Consider a pre-civil rights era when blacks and whites were supposed to hate each other. This pair are shackled to each other for days and have no choice but to depend on each other for either one of you to survive. It is worth seeing.
    Red L Super Reviewer

The Defiant Ones Quotes

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

News & Features