The Defiant Ones (1958)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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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.
Classics , Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
MGM Home Entertainment

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Tony Curtis
as John Jackson
Sidney Poitier
as Noah Cullen
Theodore Bikel
as Sheriff Max Muller
Cara Williams
as The Woman
Charles McGraw
as Capt. Frank Gibbons
Lon Chaney Jr
as Big Sam
Whit Bissell
as Lou Gans
Kevin Coughlin
as The Kid
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Critic Reviews for The Defiant Ones

All Critics (16) | Top Critics (3)

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

Full Review… | November 7, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

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.

January 25, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

It is nervous and suspenseful from the start.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Boasting strong performances from Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis, this interracial drama of two escaped convicts is Stanley Kramer's most satisfying film, deservedly nominated for and winning Oscars.

Full Review… | March 7, 2011

Tony Curtis' acting is borderline awful. His famous Bronx accent bleeds through his faux Southern one like a bloody shirt, and he continually grits his teeth in a failed attempt to show the character's self-loathing.

Full Review… | March 6, 2011
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

It becomes shackled with its heavy-handed liberal message.

Full Review… | May 21, 2008
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Audience Reviews for The Defiant Ones


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 Lats
Red Lats

Super Reviewer


Amazing black and white cinematography.

Ken Stachnik
Ken Stachnik

Super Reviewer

Whilst I cringe my way through the prejudice of history, beneath their lies a film of opportunity and comradery. I couldn't help being reminded through the film of later films that perhapsmay have been influenced by this film; The Fugitive and O'Brother where art thou? A worthy classic.

Lady D'arbanville
Lady D'arbanville

Super Reviewer

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