Rent The Defiant Ones (1958)

3.8 of 5 from 77 ratings
1h 32min
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Synopsis:
Joker Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier) are two convicts on the run. Escaping from a Southern work gang, the two men are bound together by an unbreakable iron chain and separated by an unbridled hatred towards each other. Relentlessly pursued by a posse and bloodhounds, they put aside their differences to survive. But when a lonely woman (Cara Williams) breaks their chain and deliberately sends Cullen to certain death, Jackson must decide what's more important: saving Cullen...or saving himself.
Actors:
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Directors:
Producers:
Stanley Kramer
Writers:
Nedrick Young, Harold Jacob Smith
Others:
Frederic Knudtson, Sam Leavitt
Studio:
MGM Home Entertainment
Genres:
Classics, Drama
Awards:

1959 BAFTA Best Foreign Actor

1959 BAFTA Best United Nations Film

1959 Oscar Best Cinematography Black and White

1959 Oscar Best Original Screen Play

1958 Berlinale Silver Bear for Best Actor

BBFC:
Release Date:
15/04/2002
Run Time:
92 minutes
Languages:
English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Subtitles:
Dutch, English Hard of Hearing, French, German Hard of Hearing, Italian, Spanish
DVD Regions:
Region 2
Formats:
Pal
Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen 1.66:1
Colour:
B & W
Bonus:
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
BBFC:
Release Date:
11/06/2018
Run Time:
96 minutes
Languages:
English
Subtitles:
English Hard of Hearing
Formats:
Pal
Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen 1.66:1
Colour:
B & W
BLU-RAY Regions:
B
Bonus:
  • A new video interview with critic and author Kim Newman
  • Original theatrical trailer

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Reviews (1) of The Defiant Ones

More important than good? - The Defiant Ones review by RJ

Spoiler Alert
01/08/2019

The interview with Kim Newman on the Blu-ray (which I watched after watching the film) helped to put The Defiant Ones into context for me, because - despite flattering myself that I'm reasonably well informed about films - it exposed yet more gaps in my knowledge. I didn't know a thing about Stanley Kramer, apart from gathering via Wikipedia that he was known as a director of 'message' films. Newman's way of putting it is that Kramer was 'more important than good'. Thankfully, The Defiant Ones seems to be regarded by many as one of Kramer's best. I enjoyed it and whilst it certainly isn't a subtle film I didn't find it too heavy-handed or overly preachy.

It's a simple story with good performances from Curtis and Poitier. Newman's interview also made some useful points about where Curtis and Poitier were in their respective careers at this point in time - Curtis looking to be taken seriously and Poitier not yet typecast as the 'dignified negro'. I thought they were both good in a film in which the script tries with variable success to portray them both as believable characters and as ciphers for the film's message about mutual understanding and cooperation (specifically between races but also more generally). There's great support from the likes of Theodore Bikel and Lon Chaney Jr. which helps to add a bit of colour and interest into the otherwise less-than-thrilling and episodic pursuit of the convicts. It also had a satisfyingly bleak ending, which Newman posits was due to the demands of censorship at that time - if that was the case, then I'm grateful to censorship on this occasion.

The film looks stunning (it was no surprise to discover it won an Oscar for best black and white cinematography) and, cleverly, there is no non-diegetic music used. This heightens the realism of the film by allowing us to hear the rain pouring down, the sounds of the birds and bugs, and the squelching of footsteps as both convicts and pursuers make their way through the swamps and bogs. Often with films of this period and earlier, the overwrought musical scores are my least favourite aspect, so this was a welcome relief.

I think I am happy to accept the consensus that, overall, Kramer was 'more important than good' - but I think in this film the balance between important and good was fairly even, and I found it a solid, enjoyable watch.

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