In 1964, Sidney Poitier became the first black actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field. He went on to become one of the most famous actors of his era and direct films in his own right. In a prodigious career, some of the highlights included: In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and To Sir, With Love. The theme of race ran through much of his work. Nowhere was it more prevalent than in The Defiant Ones.
After the truck transporting them crashes, John ‘Joker’ Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Poitier) find themselves on the run. The complicating factor is that they just happen to be chained together. Sheriff Muller (Theodore Bikel) isn’t too concerned as ‘they will probably kill each other in the first five miles.’ However, it’s election year and Captain Gibbons (Charles McGraw) is determined to re-capture them as soon as possible.
The Defiant Ones is a racial drama and escapee thriller which tackles the continuing race relations issues at the time in America in the last 1950s. Joker and Cullen are placed in jeopardy on a number of occasions and must learn to work together in order to retain their freedom. Curtis is good but it’s Poitier whose characterisation of barely concealed rage propels events forward. The Defiant Ones is possibly Stanley Kramer’s best film, with hindsight, and one which bubbles with tension and anger.
The Defiant Ones is released on Dual Format DVD and Blu-ray by Eureka Classics on 11th June.