Title: The Defiant Ones
Genre: Crime, Drama
Director: Stanley Kramer
Harold Jacob Smith
Music: Ernest Gold
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Lon Chaney Jr.
The time of extreme racism has long gone, but this chained-together white and black convicts’ escaping adventure simply hasn’t waned much for its in-your-face impact of genuine thrill and sympathy, director Stanley Kramer’s (from SHIP OF FOOLS 1965) third feature, gathering Curtis and Poitier as the “impossible pair”, the film would successfully pave the way for Poitier and Kramer’s prospective Oscar-winner echelon and afford Curtis a splendid career-turn with his only Oscar nomination.
One could easily be aware of the shooting condition since clearly Curtis and Poitier have taken their toll in their harsh fugitive surroundings, wrestling with the precipitate torrent, the mud pit under the pouring rain, a perilous marsh and finally a running train. But those are only default set pieces to sustain the film in its narrating procedures, a sharp and sound script does remind me how slowly the civilisation progress we have achieved since only 50 years ago, the world could be utterly colour-sensitive.
Curtis and Poitier’s two handers are meticulously orchestrated, but among the supporting group, Cara Williams and Theodore Bikel also obtained two Oscar nominations. The former partook in the latter half and induced the most poignant confrontation for Curtis’ character, choosing between freedom (even love) and the brotherhood with a black prisoner (mercifully, the finale reciprocates with the same dilemma for Poitier). Meanwhile, Williams exhibits a dooming desperation out of the unsatisfied woman without being sidelined as a cipher in the plot. Bikel, is the Sheriff with a kind heart, whose gritty and congenial persona has re-established the integrity of the police force.
Last but not the least, Poitier’s a cappella rendition of W.C. Handy’s “Long Gone (From Bowlin’ Green)” has been repeated three times in the film, the beginning, the middle section (where they are caught by the village people) and the ending, precisely elevating the film’s brio and set a great example of how a theme song could generate such an ineffable passion and evocation into a film’s texture.
ps: the film got two Oscars among its 9 nominations, BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY BLACK & WHITE and BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY.