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The Defiant Ones
Director: Stanley Kramer (Dir)
Release Date:   20 Oct 1958
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 24 Sep 1958
Production Date:   late Feb--early Apr 1958
Duration (in mins):   97-98
Duration (in feet):   8,673
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Cast:   Tony Curtis (John "Joker" Jackson)  
    Sidney Poitier (Noah Cullen)  
    Theodore Bikel (Sheriff Max Muller)  
    Charles McGraw (Capt. Frank Gibbons)  
    Lon Chaney [Jr.] (Big Sam)  
    King Donovan (Solly)  
    Claude Akins (Mac)  
    Lawrence Dobkin (Editor)  
    Whit Bissell (Lou Gans)  
    Carl Switzer (Angus)  
    Kevin Coughlin (Billy)  
    Cara Williams (Billy's mother)  

Summary: When a truck transporting chain gang convicts back to prison crashes on a rainswept Southern road, two of the prisoners escape: Noah Cullen, a black man who reacts violently to racial insults, and John "Joker" Jackson, a Southern white bigot. While the two try unsuccessfully to break the three-foot chain that binds them together, Sheriff Max Muller, under pressure from the governor, organizes a posse of state troopers and civilian volunteers. Muller reminds the well-armed troopers and local hunters that the convicts are men, "not rabbits," and his refusal to allow one volunteer's brutal Dobermans off the leash angers police captain Frank Gibbons, who would just as willingly capture the men dead as alive. Meanwhile, Joker and Cullen argue about which direction they should take. Cullen, who realizes he has little chance of attaining freedom in the South, finally convinces his reluctant partner to proceed around the swamp and then try to jump a train to Ohio. While attempting to cross a rushing river, Cullen loses his footing, and the two are carried away by the rapids. Joker eventually grabs onto a branch, but when Cullen thanks him for pulling him out of the river, the white man snarls a cutting response. The convicts manage to kill a frog, and as they devour it, Joker advises Cullen to be less sensitive about racial epithets. Countering the white man's claim that "I didn't make the rules," Cullen answers that Joker breathed in his racism at birth and has been spitting it out ever since. In order to avoid the detection of a passing farmer, Cullen and Joker leap into a clay pit, and only by coordinating their efforts are they able to climb back out. That evening, as the men wait for the cover of darkness before sneaking into a small settlement, they begin to discuss their past experiences and future hopes. Their attempt to break into the general store for food, however, produces disastrous results: Joker seriously injures his wrist, and the townspeople capture them. The locals are about to lynch the escaped convicts when Big Sam, who had been a convict himself, rescues and later frees the men. At the same time, Gibbons, exasperated with what he considers the slow pace of the pursuit, threatens that Muller will lose his job if the posse fails to recapture the prisoners. A portable radio carried by one of the civilians endlessly blares rock and roll, which further erodes the tempers of the pursuers. The next day, Cullen and Joker are surprised when a young boy named Billy aims a shotgun at them, but they easily overcome the youngster, who leads them to his farm. There they hungrily devour a meal and hammer the chain from their wrists. Billy's mother, whose husband had abandoned her eight months before, is attracted to Joker, and as she tends to his injury, she confesses that she is deeply lonely. While Cullen sleeps, the couple makes love, and in the morning, the woman announces that she wants to escape in her car with Joker. Reluctant to abandon Cullen at first, Joker finally agrees to the plan just as Cullen appears. The woman advises Cullen to take the shortcut through the swamp to the railroad tracks, but after he leaves, she admits that the swamp is impenetrable bog and quicksand. Furious at his own inadvertant betrayal of Cullen, Joker pushes the woman away and starts to go after his cohort. The boy shoots Joker in the shoulder, and when the injured man finally locates Cullen in the swamp, he protests that he is too weak to go on. The posse has now reached the woman's farm. Proceeding through the swamp, Muller threatens to shoot the Dobermans if Gibbons removes their muzzles. Cullen and Joker, hearing the train whistle, stumble up the hill as the train crosses a trestle. Cullen leaps on, but cannot hold onto Joker, and both men tumble to the ground. Cradling Joker's head against his chest, Cullen muses, "We gave 'em a hell of a run for it, didn't we?" As Muller, who wants to confront the prisoners alone, approaches the men, Cullen sings his blues anthem, "Long Gone," and then laughs. 

Production Company: Lomitas Productions, Inc.  
  Curtleigh Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: Stanley Kramer (Dir)
  Paul Helmick (Asst dir)
Producer: Stanley Kramer (Pres)
  Stanley Kramer (Prod)
Writer: Nathan E. Douglas (Wrt)
  Harold Jacob Smith (Wrt)
Photography: Sam Leavitt (Dir of photog)
  Al Myers (Cam op)
  Morris Rosen (Company grip)
  James Almond (Chief gaffer)
Art Direction: Rudolph Sternad (Prod des)
  Fernando Carrère (Art dir)
Film Editor: Frederic Knudtson (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Joe Kish (Set dec)
  Art Cole (Prop master)
Costumes: Joe King (Cost supv)
Music: Ernest Gold (Mus)
Sound: James Speak (Sd eng)
  Walter Elliott (Sd eff)
  John Mick (Sd ed)
  Wayne B. Fury (Sd ed)
Special Effects: Alex Weldon (Spec eff)
Make Up: Don Cash (Makeup)
Production Misc: Clem Beauchamp (Prod mgr)
  John Franco (Scr supv)
  Cindy James (Dog trainer)
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Long Gone," adapted from "Long Gone (From Bowlin' Green)," music by William C. Handy, lyrics by Chris Smith.
Composer: William C. Handy
  Chris Smith

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Lomitas Productions, Inc. & Curtleigh Productions, Inc. 13/8/1958 dd/mm/yyyy LP13779

PCA NO: 18985
Physical Properties: Sd: Westrex Recording System
  b&w:

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Social
 
Subjects (Major): African Americans
  Prison escapees
  Racism
  Transformation
  United States--South
 
Subjects (Minor): Attempted murder
  Betrayal
  Blues music
  Chain gangs
  Children
  Dogs
  Ex-convicts
  Humanitarianism
  Loneliness
  Love affairs
  Lynching
  Neglected wives
  Police
  Posses
  Radios
  Rapids
  Rock and roll music
  Self-sacrifice
  Sheriffs
  Swamps
  Trains
  Truck accidents

Note: United Artists production notes on the film contained in the AMPAS Library state that the production was filmed on a closed set because of the provocative nature of the topic. According to a Jul 1958 NYT news item, the film's river-crossing sequence was photographed on the Kern River, near Kernville, CA. To film the scene, Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier were shackled together wearing rubber diving suits under their prison clothing. While wading though the swiftly running, thirty-eight degree river, they were carried away by the rapids and finally caught by stunt men at a designated position one hundred yards downstream.
       A 1 Jan 1959 NYT news item revealed that Nathan E. Douglas, credited onscreen as co-author of the screenplay, was a pseudonym for Nedrick Young, who had been blacklisted in 1953 for invoking the Fifth Amendment as an "unfriendly witness" before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Two weeks later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences repealed an amendment that prohibited Academy Award recognition to anyone admitting or refusing to deny membership in the Communist Party. Douglas and his co-author, Harold Jacob Smith, were then nominated and subsequently won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. The controversy surrounding the issue continued, however, and in a Sep 1959 NYT news item, it was charged that the American Legion singled out independent producers for employing blacklisted talent while ignoring the major studios. Stanley Kramer and United Artists were among those criticized for producing a picture using a blacklisted writer. According to a 30 Jul 1996 HR article, the Writers Guild of America had officially restored Young's credit, along with credits for the writers of nine other films written by blacklisted writers.
       The Defiant Ones was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (both Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier), Best Supporting Actor (Theodore Bikel) and Best Supporting Actress. It received an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, as well as garnering three New York Film Critics awards: Best Motion Picture, Best Direction and Best Writing. It also won a Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture (Drama), and Sidney Poitier won the award for Best Foreign Actor at the Berlin Film Festival. The film was acclaimed for its promotion of race relations, winning the 1959 annual Brotherhood Media Award presented by the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Prague Film Festival Award for films designed to promote "better relations between people."
       Special screenings for integrated audiences in several Southern cities were arranged by the Protestant Film Council to promote an "understanding between the races," according to a 7 Feb 1961 HR news item. An 11 Apr 1959 LAT news item added, however, that a screening at a theater in Montgomery, AL, was canceled when the White Citizen's Committee Council protested that the film would give "moral support and financial gain to subversive propagandists." According to a modern source, Curtis insisted that he and Poitier share top billing; in the credits on the released film, Poitier was billed under Curtis. The Defiant Ones was remade for television in 1986. The remake was directed by David Lowell and starred Robert Urich and Carl Weathers. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Jul 58   pp. 484-85, 500, 502.
Box Office   11 Aug 1958.   
Daily Variety   5 Aug 58   p. 3.
Film Daily   5 Aug 58   p. 8.
Harrison's Reports   9 Aug 58   p. 127.
Hollywood Citizen-News   2 Oct 1958.   
Hollywood Reporter   28 Feb 58   p. 29.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Apr 58   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Aug 58   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Feb 1961.   
Hollywood Reporter   2 Jul 1961.   
Hollywood Reporter   30 Jul 96   p. 1, 11.
Life   11 Aug 1958.   
Los Angeles Examiner   2 Oct 1958.   
Los Angeles Times   2 Oct 1958.   
Los Angeles Times   11 Apr 1959.   
Motion Picture Herald   26 Jul 1958.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   9 Aug 58   p. 937.
New York Times   6 Jul 1958.   
New York Times   25 Sep 58   p. 29.
New York Times   1 Jan 1959.   
New York Times   14 Jan 1959.   
New York Times   3 Sep 1959.   
New Yorker   25 Aug 1958.   
Time   25 Aug 1958.   
Variety   6 Aug 58   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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