Shackled together, two escaped prisoners are pursued across remote countryside. They must work together to have a chance at escape. There’s no friendship between the two – one is white, one black.
Set in the south in the 1950s, issues of race and prejudice are very much at the forefront of director Stanley Kramer’s (On the Beach, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) narrative. But there are no big speeches, moments of redemption or cries of innocence. The Defiant Ones is the story of two men thrown together and who learn to depend on each other: the success of the film is the restraint in developing their relationship and acceptance of each other.
Both Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot, Sweet Smell of Success) and Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field, In the Heat of the Night) were Oscar-nominated for their roles. Curtis, with slightly more screen time, is emotive and passionate, perfectly juxtaposed with an angry, taciturn Poitier. Dialogue is dated and very much of its time, but The Defiant Ones has stood the test of time.
Nominated for 9 Oscars in 1959 – won 2 (Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen – Nedrick Young & Harold Jacob Smith; best b/w cinematography – Sam Leavitt).
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