When the truck that is transporting convicts has an accident on the road, the inmates John "Joker" Jackson and Noah Cullen that are chained to each other escape. They hate each other but they need to help each other to succeed in their intent of going north to jump in a train and reach freedom. Meanwhile the humane Sheriff Max Muller organizes a posse to track them down in a civilized manner and respecting justice. Joker and Cullen reach a small farm where a lonely woman helps them to get rid of their chains. She offers to drive her car with Joker and her son Billy while Cullen would escape through the swamp to the railroad. But when Joker learns that she sent Cullen to a trap, he leaves her and is shot in the shoulder by Billy. Joker seeks out Cullen to save him and when they meet each other, their former hatred has changed to friendship and respect.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Elvis Presley wanted the role of John "Joker" Jackson, hoping to co-star with Sammy Davis Jr. (who had been first choice for the role of Noah Cullen) but was persuaded by his manager not to do the film. See more »
Near the end of the film after Jackson falls in the mud trying to catch up to Cullen there is thick mud all the way up his front over his shoulders. In the next shot his right shoulder is suddenly unmuddied. See more »
Go on, tell me all that big talk about Charlie Potatoes, when the chains off and nobody chasing you. Come on. You can't, can you? You can't because you're nothing. You're not even a man! You're a monkey on a stick. That cracker mob back there, they pull the string and you jump.
[John punches him]
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Possibly Stanley Kramer's most famous directorial entry, THE DEFIANT ONES is the story of "Joker" Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier), two tough-as-nails convicts who are accidentally freed when the truck that transports them overturns. But they are not freed from each other, for they are linked at the wrist by a two-foot chain. Now Jackson, a redneck white racist, and Cullen, a bitter and resentful black man from a poverty-stricken family, must cooperate if they are to escape. There is a subplot that follows the sheriff's posse pursuing them, but it is poorly developed and serves mostly to slow the movie down.
THE DEFIANT ONES gets its strength from the study of the two leads' changing characters. Sidney Poitier's bravura performance as Cullen earned him a well-deserved Best Actor nomination. Cullen is no saint, but his resentment comes across as heartfelt, never as whining. Poitier's timing is superb; at one point he breaks out laughing at Jackson's fumbling efforts to ignore him at the exact same instant that I did. I am not a fan of Tony Curtis, and he is frequently guilty of overacting here, but he undeniably sparks excellent chemistry with Poitier, and with Cara Williams also (the lonely abandoned wife with whom the two fugitives take shelter). The two-foot steel chain will stand alongside the Maltese Falcon and the One Ring as the best plot devices in cinematic history. It is fascinating to watch a link of respect and mutual reliance grow between the two men, more durable than the physical link. The best line in the movie, now unjustly forgotten, comes after the chain has been removed. Cullen raises his bare wrist and encourages the injured Jackson: "Come on, Joker, you' draggin' on the chain!"
Samuel Leavitt won a merited Oscar for his sharp, glowing cinematography. Jacob Smith's and blacklisted Nedrick Young's screenplay also won an Oscar, but that choice is more questionable; for every good line there is an artificial-sounding clunker, and one of the climactic plot twists is painfully predictable. But they do deserve credit for their ending, which is warm and yet completely avoids the feel-good Hollywood denouement that I was expecting. The supporting cast's attempts at Southern accents uniformly stink; the only standout is Lon Chaney, Jr. as a compassionate ex-convict.
There is much to dislike about the DEFIANT ONES, but much more to like. Kramer did well with this movie, but he did better on his lesser-known efforts JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG and INHERIT THE WIND.
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