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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Defiant Ones (1958)

"He said not to worry 'bout catching them. They'll probably kill each other before they go five miles."
- Sheriff Max Muller (Theodore Bikel)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: December 03, 2001

Stars: Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier
Other Stars: Theodore Bikel, Charles McGraw, Lon Chaney Jr, King Donovan, Kevin Coughlin, Cara Williams
Director: Stanley Kramer

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (racial epithets, language, violence)
Run Time: 01h:36m:17s
Release Date: December 11, 2001
UPC: 027616869364
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+A-B+ D

DVD Review

One of the seminal social dramas of the 1950s, The Defiant Ones sets a message of racial tolerance against the need for survival of two desperate men. Hugely influential in its time and for many years afterward, the picture still holds up well.

Convicts Joker Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier) are part of a chain gang in the deep south, but the truck they're riding in is involved in an accident. The two escape, but are bound together by an unbreakable chain. As tight as this bond holds them together, their differences and mutual hatred make their very survival difficult. Pursued by the local sheriff (Theodore Bikel), they run afoul of a lynch mob led by Claude Akins, and a lonely woman (Cara Williams) who wants to escape her dreary life with Joker, even if it means Cullen's death.

The picture features one powerful performance after another. The two leads are superb and believable, with an intensity that practically shoots sparks. The supporting cast is fine as well, with Bikel and Williams taking the lead. Also notable is Lon Chaney Jr in a small role as the sympathetic head of the turpentine camp where the pair is caught by the lynch mob. King Donovan plays Solly, the twitchy and whiny master of the bloodhounds and Dobermans in pursuit of the convicts, and Charles McGraw is excellent as the state police captain who is at loggerheads with the sheriff about giving the convicts too much lead time.

Interestingly, there is no music in the film whatsoever beyond that naturally appearing; most notable of these snatches of music is a spiritual-type song that Poitier sings, in contrast to jazzy music that one of the posse is playing on his radio. While many suspense films use music as a crutch, director Stanley Kramer eschews it completely, and makes the film carry its own suspense. The result works quite well, with the action moving briskly.

The camera is generally stable and unobtrusive; there is one notable shot, however, as Curtis and Williams discuss taking her car and leaving Cullen behind; the reflection of Poitier can be seen in the side window between the two of them, long before they realize his presence. Quite a bold stroke that is highly effective, in part because so few such stylized shots are used in the picture.

The final product is superb drama, with excitement aplenty, and an important message of racial understanding that isn't overly preachy.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The nonanamorphic 1.66 widescreen picture looks great. Detail is sharp and clear, without edge enhancement. The black & white photography comes through beautifully with a wide shade of grays, excellent shadow detail and rich, vibrant black levels. The bit rates are consistently high, running between 7 and 8 Mbps for most of the film. Even the copious running water is rendered well. The only drawback is that it isn't anamorphic, which downgrades the picture from an A+

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Similarly, the 2.0 mono track sounds terrific. No hiss or noise was audible, dialogue is clear, and the ambient sounds of nature are prominent and realistic. The radio music sounds appropriately tinny, but otherwise the audio is undistorted. There's not much in the way of bass here, but the sound is much better than expected for a picture of this vintage.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The sole extra is a dupey, soft, overly contrasty trailer with noisy sound. More than anything, it points up just what a terrific transfer MGM has provided for this classic.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A classic drama of two convicts bound together by a chain and torn apart by mutual hatred, given a terrific transfer. Lacking in extras, but definitely recommended. This may not be a big moneymaker for MGM, but it's certainly been accorded proper respect.


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