Stanley Kramer was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for helming the 1958 message film The Defiant Ones. The Definant Ones is a classic example of the doomed buddy picture. It tells the story of Joker Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier) who are on their way back to prison from work detail when their truck goes off a Southern windswept road. The two anti-heroes survive the crash and make a run for it. Each man couldn’t be more different- Cullen, a willful black man who is literally shackled to Jackson, a Southern white bigot. Hot on the trail of the two convicts is humanitarian Sheriff Max Muller (Theodore Bikel) who, under pressure from the governor, assembles a posse of apathetic deputies to track the two convicts down. After a brief capture and rescue, the two escapees are sheltered by a lonely, love-starved abandoned woman (Cara Williams). The “racist cuz she doesn’t know any different” woman offers Jackson a deal- she will turn in Cullen if Jackson agrees to stay with her. Though tempted, Jackson realizes that his bond with Cullen is too strong and soon the unchained men attempt to hop a train to the north with the law in hot pursuit. The film ends sweetly with Jackson being cradled in Cullen’s arms as the two men await their capture. The Defiant Ones remains a classic film that is propelled by the concept of two men locked together who are morally opposed to one another, but who must work together to make their way to freedom.
The Defiant Ones received 9 Academy Award nominations in 1958. The film scored nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, as well as two Best Actor nominations- for Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, respectively. Poitier’s nomination marked the first time in Oscar history that an African American actor received a nomination in either the Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor categories. The film scored two Oscars wins- one for Harold Jacob Smith’s Best Screenplay and the other for Sam Leavitt’s crisp, stunning Cinematography. The film’s final acting nomination went to Cara Williams, nominee, (138), for her role as “The Woman.” Williams provides a wonderful counterpoint to the two convicts as one of the lone women in the entire film. While Williams overplays her character’s Southern sexpot tendencies, she achieves greatness when her character is allowed to slowly and subtly reveal her casual racism. Cara Williams lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Wendy Hiller in Separate Tables.