The Defiant Ones (1958): Movie Trivia & Fun Facts
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The Defiant Ones (1958): Movie Trivia & Fun Facts

Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones debuted in New York City on September 24, 1958. Amazing The Defiant Ones movie trivia and fun facts encompass Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, Carl Alfalfa Switzer, Theodore Bikel, W. C. Handy, Cara Williams, Charles McGraw, Elvis Presley, the Southern Pacific Railroad and Long Gone from Bowlin' Green.

United Artists' The Defiant Ones hit movie theaters in 1958. Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier star as two shackled cons on the lam, trying to evade a manhunt while waging a racial war with each other. Here are 21 The Defiant Ones movie trivia items and fun facts...

1. The Defiant Ones was written for the screen by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith. Young was forced to use the pseudonym of "Nathan E. Douglas," as he was still a blacklisted actor/writer from the McCarthy era.

Sidney Poitier, left, and Tony Curtis on the run in The Defiant Ones (1958) - United Artists

2. The Defiant Ones was co-produced by Stanley Kramer's Lomitas Productions and Tony Curtis' Curtleigh Productions. Kramer served as both producer and director, with Ernest Gold creating the unique music score, which can be heard from radios. 

3. Tony Curtis plays Johnny "Joker" Jackson and Sidney Poitier appears as Noah Cullen. It's been reported that Elvis Presley and Sammy Davis Jr. were the original picks, along with Marlon Brando for Johnny Jackson. It was Tony Curtis who insisted that he and Poitier receive co-billing.

4. Character actor Theodore Bikel plays Sheriff Max Muller. The sheriff's salary as stated in the film is $6,800 a year. Bikel records one of the film's more memorable lines, directed at a character named Solly (King Donovan), who frets constantly about his bloodhounds: "I sure hope you treat your grandmother the way you treat those dogs."

Theodore Bikel as Sheriff Max Muller - United Artists

5. Charles McGraw plays Captain Frank Gibbons, a state police officer who supervises the manhunt for the two shackled prisoners – one white and the other black.  

6. The Defiant Ones was budgeted at $1 million. Principal filming took place at Malibu Creek State Park in Calabasas, California, from February to April 1958. The thrilling freight train sequence, as seen near the end, was filmed on the Southern Pacific Railroad, between the California towns of Piru and Fillmore in Ventura County. 

7. One of the toughest scenes to shoot was the famous clay pit sequence, whereby Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier leap into the water-filled pit and later try to claw their way out. That's actually Curtis and Poitier down there in the muck – and not stunt doubles – as they attempt to ascend their clay prison walls.  

8. Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier also performed most of their own stunts during the dangerous river rapids scene. However, stuntman Bobby Hoy did fill in for Curtis at times, performing some of the more physically demanding work.

9. Lon Chaney Jr. of The Wolfman fame plays Big Sam, an ex-con displaying old shackle scars on his right wrist. He sets the two escaped convicts free from a company town, muttering to himself as Jackson and Cullen flee into the night, "Run, chicken, run."

10. After being set free when their prison truck is sideswiped by another vehicle during a driving rainstorm, we learn more about the two escaped convicts. Johnny Jackson is serving 5-10 years for armed robbery and attacking a guard while Noah Cullen is doing 10-20 years for assault and battery and attempted murder. Jackson worked as a $1.80-an-hour transmission mechanic, parked cars and served a stint in the Army. Cullen, the son of a "bible thumper" father, is married and has a five-year-old son.

11. Pay close attention to the posse member named Angus, whose love for his transistor radio gets on the nerves of Charles McGraw's Captain Gibbons. That's Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer of Our Gang fame. The Defiant Ones proved to be Switzer's final film, as the 31-year-old actor was later shot to death on January 21, 1959, during a drunken dispute involving a paltry $50 debt. The tragic incident was later ruled justifiable homicide. When Captain Gibbons barks, "You, douse that radio," he's aiming his ire at Switzer's rockabilly music-loving character Angus.

12. You could always count on veteran character actor Claude Akins for a good, villainous heavy role. In The Defiant Ones Akins ably delivers, playing the hotheaded Mac who wants to lynch Jackson and Cullen at a company town.

13. Cara Williams plays The Woman (no name given) in the film. She offers Jackson $400 in insurance money to betray Cullen and light out with her.

14. The Defiant Ones' theme song is titled "Long Gone," which was adapted from "Long Gone (From Bowlin' Green)," with music by W.C. Handy and lyrics by Chris Smith. Sidney Poitier can be heard singing "Long Gone" in the prison truck and later while on the run.

15. Serving as Sidney Poitier's stand-in was Ivan Dixon, who later played Sergeant Kinchloe on TV's Hogan's Heroes (1965-71).

16. One noticeable gaffe in the movie: Jackson and Cullen cross the river, leaving them drenched from their ordeal. However, they then produce cigarettes and matches, begging the question: how did they keep them dry?

17. The Defiant Ones premiered at the Victoria Theater in New York City on September 24, 1958. Reported Bosley Crowther of The New York Times (9/25/58):  “A remarkably apt and dramatic visualization of a social idea – the idea of men of different races brought together to face misfortune in a bond of brotherhood – is achieved by producer Stanley Kramer in his new film, 'The Defiant Ones'...Mr. Poitier stands out as the Negro convict and Mr. Curtis is surprisingly good…In the ranks of the pursuers, Theodore Bikel is most impressive as a sheriff with a streak of mercy and justice, which he has to fight to maintain against a brutish state policeman, played by Charles McGraw…With this forceful social drama, we are glad to see Mr. Kramer return to the kind of ‘idea’ picture making he did when he was breaking his own trail.”

18. When the Academy Award nominations were announced on February 23, 1959, The Defiant Ones had earned a total of nine: Best Picture, Best Actor (Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier), Best Supporting Actor (Theodore Bikel), Best Supporting Actress (Cara Williams), Best Director (Stanley Kramer), Best Story and Screenplay (Nathan E. Douglas and Harold Jacob Smith, won), Best Cinematography/B&W (Sam Leavitt, won) and Best Film Editing (Frederic Knudston).

19. Given the racial climate of the era – this was 1958, six years before the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 – The Defiant Ones did not fare well in the American south.

20. The Defiant Ones was remade as a TV-movie in 1986. Directed by David Lowell Rich and written by James Lee Barrett and Harold Jacob Smith, the movie stars the late Robert Urich as Johnny “Joker” Jackson and Carl Weathers as Cullen Monroe. Others appearing in the film include Ed Lauter, Barry Corbin, Laurie O’Brien, Thalmus Rasulala, William Sanderson and Ritch Brinkley.

21. Deceased cast members from The Defiant Ones include Tony Curtis (1925-2010), Charles McGraw (1914-1980), King Donovan (1919-1987), Lon Chaney Jr. (1906-1973), Claude Akins (1918-1994), Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer (1926-1959) and Whit Bissell (1919-1996).

“Don’t you understand? You can’t go lynchin’ me. I’m a white man!” - Tony Curtis as Joker Jackson to a mob, with Sidney Poitier's Noah Cullen standing right beside him

Additional Reading & Top Image 

Copyright © 2011 William J. Felchner

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Comments (3)

A pretty cool flick--and a bit iconic.

Definitely one of the greats. Thanks for the great trivia about this great movie classic. Have a safe and Happy New Year!

Why can't they make them like this anymore? It's a shame they dont!