Monday, August 24, 2020

The Defiant Ones

Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958) is a thriller about two escaped cons, Noah (Sidney Poitier) and “Joker” (Tony Curtis). On one level it’s a star vehicle and a kind of survival saga a la Deliverance. The two convicts are chained together, with one unable to make a move without the other. But the two characters totally dependent and intertwined  are also reminiscent of Beckett’s metaphysical duo Vladimir and Estragon. If you remember Waiting For Godot opened on Broadway only two years before in 1956. In one memorable scene, the feckless pair are trying to negotiate their way through rapids. There's a lot of push and pull a la Beckett and it’s not clear who’s saving or drowning whom. The same happens when they try to climb out of a mud pit in which they’ve been forced to hide. There’s also the obvious racial element in the script. Joker is a typical bigot who’s constantly reminding Noah of his place, but the irony is that in the end, when given the chance to escape, he’s totally dependent on his “partner in crime.” He can’t do without him. Spoiler alert. Though they’ve gotten rid of their chains by the end, they aren’t free of either each other or the law. The last lines of Waiting for Godot are famously Vladimir: "Well? Shall we go? Estragon: Yes, let’s go. They do not move." “Everybody winds up alone. Not just you. That’s the way it is,” Joker says. In The Defiant Ones, the human condition is the great leveler, creating a tutorial in equality. 

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