"The second feature in a quartet of racial prejudice-themed films by director Stanley Kramer (The other titles include Home Of The Brave (1949), Pressure Point (1962) and Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967), The Defiant Ones (1958) is an unlikely buddy film. Sidney Poitier stars as Noah Cullen, an educated black convict in a chain gang whose "other half" is John "Joker" Johnson, a white, Southern bigot played by Tony Curtis. The two men, shackled together with chains, decide to escape when their prison truck crashes on the highway, providing them with a chance for freedom. As they take to the back roads, their hostility and distrust of one another eventually gives way to mutual respect as they dodge sheriffs, hunting dogs, lynch mobs, and gun-wielding youths together.
The Defiant Ones marked a significant turning point in Sidney Poitier's career. Since the mid-fifties, Poitier had become a spokesperson for black empowerment due to his intelligent and uncompromising characterizations in such films as The Blackboard Jungle (1955) and Edge of the City (1957). In a time of heightened racial tensions and a virtually nonexistent black presence in Hollywood, Poitier's Cullen was an inspirational figure to African-American moviegoers who rarely saw issues of skin color or racial prejudice addressed in contemporary movies. In his autobiography, This Life, Poitier recalled his involvement in The Defiant Ones: "As I saw it, in my career there was a real beginning for a break-through - not only for me but for other blacks in films. Suddenly decisions of a very political nature were on my doorstep. Was it important to carry on? Was it important for me to carry on? Naturally I felt I had certain things to offer, since I had begun to work with some regularity and had generated what I thought to be good vibrations spreading around the industry. The Defiant Ones, speaking directly to the point of how black people want to see themselves on the screen, would be a hell of a shot for us. And the role of Cullen would represent for me and other black actors a step up in the quality of parts available to us, and at the same time afford the black community in general a rare look at a movie character exemplifying the dignity of our people - something that Hollywood had systematically ignored in its shameless capitulation to racism."
- Kerryn Sherrod for TCM
Status: Available for purchase.