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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Defiant Ones (1958)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)


Starring: Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £17.99 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: U
Release Date: 11 June 2018

When their prison truck is involved in an accident John 'Joker' Jackson and Noah Cullen escape. Chained together they must overcome their racial difficulties to work together to survive...

The Defiant Ones (B & W. 1958. 1 hr, 36 min, 27 sec) is a crime drama directed by Stanley Kramer, who was well known for creating films with messages and apart for his one comedy, his films tended to be heavy and dour. Not all have aged well.

Tony Curtis (Jackson) and Sidney Poitier (Cullen) play the two escaped convicts who must make it across the land chained together. If the penny hasn’t dropped, this is a film about racism. It's not the only film Kramer made about this subject returning to the theme in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), which also stared Poitier.

These were not easy film to gain acceptance in an era where the Jim Crow Laws still separated blacks from whites and only a short few years before the film's release a 14-year old boy had been strung up and killed just for the colour of his skin. Some things have change, others not so much, but this means that for a modern audience some of the film's message is a little heavy handed.

There is one sequence where the pair are discovered by a young boy, who instantly views Cullen with dread and suspicion, placing himself in the protective arms of Jackson, even though it was Jackson who was happy to leave the unconscious child. There are many such sequences which may have resonated in the late fifties which have thankfully lost much of their power over the passage of time.

At an earlier instance they attempt to break into a turpentine camp only to be discovered by the residents. Intent on lynching them they are released by Big Sam who cannot stomach his neighbour’s easy racism and violence. It’s a nice acting part for Lon Chaney, who proves that he was so much more than his string of horror films would suggest.

The pair are pursued by a posse led by the liberally minded Sheriff Max Muller (Theodore Bikel) whose only intention is to uphold the law and view the two escapees the same regardless of the tone of skin.

The two do find common ground, but then Jackson’s racism is that easy lazy form, rather than a deep-seated dislike of Cullen’s skin colour.

The Blu-ray has an interview with Kim Newman (19 min, 59 sec) who is as ever entertainingly erudite about the subject. The disc also contains the unrestored original trailer (2 min, 29 sec).

The film looks like it’s either come from a very good print or has undergone restoration, there is a level of film grain, but the contrast remains good. It is presented with a LPCM 2.0 audio track and optional English subtitles.

This is very much a film of its time, a little heavy handed for a modern audience, but still an important film from a committed liberal director.


Charles Packer

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