The Defiant Ones (1958) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Defiant Ones1958

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.

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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
Whit Bissell
as Lou Gans
View All

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Critic Reviews for The Defiant Ones

All Critics (19) | Top Critics (4)

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

February 19, 2009 | Full Review…

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

November 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.

January 26, 2006 | Full Review…

It is nervous and suspenseful from the start.

May 20, 2003 | Full Review…

With enough thrilling action to keep it enjoyable today, this is an important film that provided Poitier with a breakthrough role and helped Curtis to escape the simplistic hero mode in which his talents had too often been wasted.

January 19, 2018 | Rating: 3.5/5 | Full Review…

Mr. Kramer's heart interferes with the action at several points, and though these lucky accidents are traditional in a chase picture, they do cloud the allegory.

January 8, 2018 | Full Review…

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

The Defiant Ones Quotes

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