The Defiant Ones Reviews
Excellent movie. In the 1950s this would have been incredibly revolutionary, socially progressive and a great moral tale. Even today, with society more tolerant, it is a wonderful story of friendship and tolerance with a powerful anti-prejudice message.
While it might seem obvious where the story is going, how it gets there is never predictable, or dull. Director Stanley Kramer weaves a great story, filled with red herrings, detours and setbacks. Much symbolism in some of the smallest of gestures and acts and the dialogue is filled with some powerful, quotable lines.
Balancing the drama is the lighter side of the story - the police. Scenes involving them are often funny, not to make them seem like buffoons or make light of their attempts to track the convicts, but really just to lighten the mood.
Great work by Sydney Poitier as Cullen. Tony Curtis is less convincing (the accent!), but does okay. Both picked up Oscar nominations for their efforts. Theodore Bickel is great as the Sheriff - his laid-back way of doing things made for some great comedy. He also got an Oscar nomination, as did Cara Williams.
Somehow this movie did not win the 1959 Best Picture Oscar. In one of the worst decisions in Oscar history, the award went to the incredibly weak and dull Gigi, one of the worst ever Best Picture winners. Maybe the Academy was just into musicals that year...
Two convicts escape from prison chained together. The warden thought it would be humorous to chain a white and black prisoner together and they aren't worried about the prisoners getting too far without killing each other. The inmates try to get along long enough to make their way to freedom.
"You keep these dogs on a leash."
Stanley Kramer, director of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner; It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; Inherit the Wind; Judgment at Nuremburg; and Ship of Fools, delivers Defiant Ones. The storyline for this picture is very interesting and well executed. The character interactions were well written and executed by the cast, which includes Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, Lon Chaney, Claude Akins, and Cara Williams.
"Sure, men and rabbits are the same thing. They're not the same thing."
I recently came across this on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and had to DVR this grindhouse classic. This was very good and I loved how the characters played off each other. This is a worthwhile gem that is a must see for fans of the classic.
"Bugs are people. Nobody understands anybody."
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
The Defiant Ones has a simple yet interesting story. Coming from a time when racial prejudice was very common, it is famous for being the first film to score a black actor a nomination for a competitive Academy Award, and it is really easy to see why. Although The Defiant Ones is a very dated film which deals with concepts that have been explored hundreds of times in other films since the release of The Defiant Ones, it is good to look back upon.
The Defiant Ones has viewers cheering for its two protagonists even though they are criminals. It never explains precisely what their crimes are, and it gives audiences a chance to get to know the characters as they develop into more friendly characters over the course of the film. Unlike the world which judges the characters on what they have done, The Defiant Ones produces situations in which viewers are going to really judge the characters more on the basis of who they are and who they become as a result of things than what they have done in the past. And as the journey takes off, it is never predictable because it is full of twists and turns all over the place. The Defiant Ones defies movie stereotypes because it respects its viewers enough to be able to handle the material, and in the process it tells a familiar story with some new twists on it. Occasionally, it stays on a safe path, but it manages to overshadow its predictable moments with talented acting and some nice visual elements.
The cinematography is very innovative. Since The Defiant Ones comes from 1958 which was a time when movies tended to follow a classical style, it is good to see The Defiant Ones breaking many conventions. While The Defiant Ones maintains a classical visual style, many of the cinematography techniques in the film are new and impressive, particularly in how they zoom up on certain aspects during scenes to convey the kind of intense drama that is happening. It is cleverly introduced and used subtly at particular moments, and as well as that it captures the beautiful visual experience of The Defiant Ones.
A very entertaining black and white experience, The Defiant Ones is built on beautiful scenery which makes the entire story very realistic, and along with that, a convincing production design and realistic costumes, The Defiant Ones feels genuine. And it helps to make the experience enjoyable even during some of its slow and dull moments. So The Defiant Ones serves as a front for director Stanley Kramer to show off his ability to tell a story and make it look good as a film director.
But the thing carrying The Defiant Ones to the end is the skill of its many talented actors.
Scoring himself the first Academy Award nomination of his career, Sidney Poitier makes an effort in The Defiant Ones which reveals just how he would go on to become known as one of the greatest actors of all time. Sidney Poitier makes Noah Cullen a very sympathetic character who is admirable for his ability to keep on standing through all of the situations that the world throws at him, as well as the fact that he gradually breaks down his tough image and begins to show subtle hints of humanity in his characterisation. The value of having Sidney Poitier in the role is the fact that he is considered to be the greatest African-American actor of all time by many people, and it means that from the word go his character will be a strong one. Sidney Poitier simply builds on his character more and more at a gentle pace from when the story begins to when it ends. Sidney Poitier is a seriously likable and admirable actor for his leading performance in The Defiant Ones, and the quality of his performance has him refusing to play second best to any other actors in the film, as well as creating a very interesting chemistry with Tony Curtis.
Tony Curtis gives a terrific performance in The Defiant Ones as well. Sharing an intense and meaningful chemistry with co-star Sidney Poitier, the film essentially becomes a battle for the viewers' favouritism since they both put up near-equally impressive performances which earned them both Academy Award nominations for Best Actor. It isn't hard to sympathise for Tony Curtis' character even though he is a bit of an idiot at times, and as the story goes on we see him make a great transition as him and Sidney Poitier form a gradual bond. You can tell that both actors have learned a lot from working with each other in The Defiant Ones, and seeing Tony Curtis step up to the plate and act well enough alongside Sidney Poitier to earn a nomination for the same prestigious Academy Award as Sidney Poitier himself is very impressive. Tony Curtis is at some of his best in The Defiant Ones, and his performance is easy to enjoy.
Theodore Bikel''s performance in The Defiant Ones is terrific because you can tell that he does not have sympathy for criminals and symbolises the harsh reality of the Southern law without resorting to characterising him on the basis of stereotypical redneck aspects. Theodore Bikel's supporting performance builds the dramatic credibility of the story even more.
Lastly, Cara William's small supporting performance is great because it capitalises on both her acting talent and her natural beauty and ensures that she convincingly portrays a character who is compelling and surprising in both negative and positive lights. Cara Williams does a great job in the role.
So although The Defiant Ones isn't precisely a groundbreaking film and is fairly slowly paced over the course of its long but limited story, it is visually terrific and acted with such passion which keeps it constantly entertaining.