Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tony Curtis: The Defiant Ones

If The Vikings doesn't engage in any social consciousness raising, our next Tony Curtis selection certainly does: The Defiant Ones, airing at 9:45 PM ET tonight.

Tony Curtis plays prisoner John Jackson, who is being transported back to jail with the rest of the chain gang. A storm hits, and the prison truck gets in an accident, turning over; this gives Jackon the chance to escape. There's only one problem: he's handcuffed to fellow prisoner Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier), so the two will eithe rhave to escape together, or not at all.

On second thought, that is by no means the only problem. Jackson, if you couldn't tell from the picture above, is white, while Cullen is black. And, this being a Hollywood movie, you just know that there's going to be a whole bunch of racial tension: the white guy is going to be a vicious racist, and the black guy is going to have all sort of (fully logical) justification for not wanting to trust the white guy shackled to him. For example, while trying to escape, Jackson has trouble fording a swift river, and is threatened with being carried away by the current. Cullen pulls him out. Not so much out of any feelings for Jackson, but because if he didn't pull Jackson out, he too would be pulled in.

And so it goes, with the two men looking for a way to break the chain that literally binds them, while trying to keep ahead of sheriff Theodore Bikel and police captain Charles McGraw. Eventually, they wind up at the isolated farmhouse of widowed Cara Williams. Jackson falls in love with her, and this gives the two of them a chance to escape without Cullen: he from the law, she from her miserable existence. Cullen, meanwhile, would be left to try to find the freight train north himself. But, it might not be what it seems....

The Defiant Ones is certainly formulaic in that, once you know you've got a white racist handcuffed to a black guy, you know how the sparks are going to fly over the rest of the movie. That doesn't mean the movie isn't good, however, as Poitier and Curtis both give excellent performances. Even though we know where the story is going to wind up, the journey there is still interesting.

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