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
There is this story going around that Robert Mitchum refused the part Tony Curtis eventually played because he did not want to work with a black man. The actual story is that Mitchum who did spend time on a southern chain gang said there was no way that back in the day a black and white man would have been chained together in the first place. In fact Stanley Kramer must have taken the critique in stride because sheriff Theodore Bikel has a line of explanation saying the warden had a sense of humor.
Though the film dates a bit, it's still quite dramatic even now. Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier chained together have an unplanned jail break while being transported. Curtis has all the attitudes typical of his time and Poitier doesn't take nothing off anybody. Still joined at the hip as they are, they do need each other and find eventually there's more that unites than divides them.
Besides Theodore Bikel in a strange role for him as a laconic southern sheriff, look for good performances from Lon Chaney, Jr. who runs a turpentine work camp who saves Curtis and Poitier from a lynching and Cara Williams as a trampy white trash farm lady whose needs haven't been met for a while.
Tony Curtis in an incredible act of generosity insisted on equal billing for Sidney Poitier since due to the nature of the film, they are on screen together for most of it. That act of generosity may have cost him an Oscar for both he and Poitier were nominated for Best Actor, but lost to David Niven for Separate Tables. An act that rankles Tony Curtis to this day because at the drop of a hat he will insist Niven got 'his' Oscar.
Despite the sour grapes, The Defiant Ones though dated is still a good bit of cinema.
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