Racism Is No Good When On The Run

“The Defiant Ones” is a classic film released in 1958 and stars the great Tony Curtis and the always compelling Sidney Poitier.  Stanley Kramer is the director of this highly acclaimed film written by Harold Jacob Smith, who got the story somehow from Nedrick Young.

Two convicts escape after a prison transfer bus crashes.  Of course, it’s one white guy and one black guy chained together who decide to make a break for it.  That’s about the only thing they can agree on at first.  This was an important film at the time considering that segregation was still a popular practice.

It’s the talent of the two leads that really carries this one and makes this enjoyable.  There is a relationship that develops seemingly out of left field between Curtis’ “Joker” Jackson and a single mother he and Poitier’s Cullen come across along the way.  Cara Williams is part of the cast and plays a woman desperate to leave her current circumstances although the level of trust she displays is somewhat hard to swallow. This movie has some twists and turns to it that are not as easy to buy into as I would like, however it’s still a great experience.  Curtis and Poitier have great chemistry even at the height of their hostility toward each other.  It is heartening to read that Curtis insisted that Poitier share the top billing with him during the opening credits.  It is also too bad that Curtis had to insist on that credit for the more than worthy Sidney Poitier, but  that was how it was at that time.

There are a few moments that had me scratching my head in disbelief, but my incredulity was pretty mild given the overall enjoyment of watching two major Hollywood talents spark off each other during a time when it was considerably more rare to have two men of different ethnicities share such significant screen time together. A part of me would like to have seen it at the time it first premiered just to get a sense of what audiences really thought of it.  It’s a great movie with a great cast, and any  mild criticism I may have is not a good enough reason to pass it up.

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