Filmsite Movie Review
The Defiant Ones (1958)
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Background

The Defiant Ones (1958) is a swift and exciting dramatic action film, known for its symbolic and memorable image of two escaped convicts, one white and one black.

The Story

White convict Johnny "Joker" Jackson (Tony Curtis), and black convict Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier), handcuffed together, escape from a southern chain gang. The two Southern fugitives are forced to overcome their racial animosity and rely on each other to survive.

They flee from Sheriff Max Muller (Theodore Bikel) and have to face up to tremendous difficulties, including the 29 inch long shackles that keep them together, hostile townspeople, a lynching mob, bloodhounds, a swamp, and their own mutual hatred, belligerence, and bigotry. As they struggle together, they begin to accept each other.

The final sequence is the most memorable. The two men pursue a freight train to escape. Cullen is able to get onto one of the moving cars, and locks hands with his white companion (a memorable image of black and white hands and arms locked together), but he cannot pull Jackson up onto the moving train. So he sacrifices his own freedom and falls back off the train onto the ground. In their final few moments of freedom, they share a cigarette, and Cullen sings the blues classic "Long Gone" as the sounds of bloodhounds on their trail closing in on them are heard in the distance.