#223 The Defiant Ones
(1958, Stanley Kramer)
“How come they chained a white man to a black?”
“The warden’s got a sense of humour”
So, yeah, The Defiant Ones. This sure is a movie. It has actors and a plot and stuff. And I have to review it now. Which will be interesting, and you shall soon see why.
The plot involves two convicts, John “Joker” Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sydney Poitier), who have escaped from a prison transport. The problem is, Jackson is white and Cullen is black, and they are chained together. It’s also the 1950s, so everyone’s a massive racist, and the two don’t want to be attached to one another because they’ll get black/white man cooties or something. Cue shenanigans. Serious shenanigans, mind.
So, the reason this film will be so hard to review is because…well…I simply don’t remember it all that well. In the past I have reviewed films that I’ve deemed painfully average and struggled to write a review on them, but this is a new one. I barely remember anything that happens here. So I’m basically trying to do all of this from the notes I made, and that’s tricky, since they’re not sparking my memory much either.
What I do remember is feeling a little disappointed. The concept sounded very interesting. Two men of different colours forced to travel together despite them each hating the other for the colour of his skin, and the conflict that emerges between them. But I walked away feeling very indifferent, and now I’ve largely forgotten what happened.
I do remember that the conflict I was interested in didn’t really take up much time in the movie. They argue towards the beginning, but before too long they’re pals and teaming up to help each other out, not out of necessity but because hey, turns out that they were wrong to be so racist. I get that at some point they were due to start getting along, but it feels like it happens far too soon and sucks most of the momentum out of the movie.
I also remember feeling that the romantic side plot that comes in later in the movie felt incredibly tacked on and didn’t have much substance to it. It felt like a movie executive demanded a love interest because all movies have to have love interests, apparently, and it really suffers for it. At the point Cara Williams’ character comes into the movie, Poitier is largely pushed aside and forgotten about until Joker realises that she’s trying to push him away. Which would be conflict if the movie itself hadn’t forgotten about him in the first place.
I did like the acting for the most part, with both leads playing their parts very well, but at the same time there wasn’t really much to their characters beyond Angry White Man and Angry Black Man, so it was all very bland.
Normally my reviews are a bit longer than this, but The Defiant Ones really is one of those films that let very little of a lasting impression on me. And nothing is worse to this blog than a bland film.
Starring Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, Theodore Bikel, Cara Williams, Charles McGraw and Lon Chaney Jr.
Written by Nedrick Young & Harold Jacob Smith
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Music by Ernest Gold
Cinematography by Sam Leavitt
Edited by Frederic Knudtson
Favourite Scene: The argument they have towards the beginning, aka the sole bit of meaningful conflict
Scene That Bugged Me: Joker’s love interest talking about running away together, while I’m just thinking “and what about Noah?”
Watch it if: You need to see a movie about chained prisoners
Avoid it if: You’re expecting a little more conflict surrounding the main characters