In Brief: this is the write-up of The Defiant Ones prepared for my in-progress book on Lon Chaney Jr, as mentioned here. Feedback is very welcome!
Produced by Stanley Kramer for Lomitas Productions, Inc. Directed by Stanley Kramer. Screenplay by Nedrick Young & Harold Jacob Smith. Music score by Ernest Gold. Cinematography by Sam Leavitt. Edited by Frederic Knudtson. Distributed by United Artists.
Technical: 1.66:1, black and white, Westrex mono. Running time: 96 minutes. Production: late February to early April 1958. Premiere: September 24 1958 (NY).
With Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, Theodore Bikel, Charles McGraw, Lon Chaney, King Donovan and Claude Akins.
Two convicts—one white (Tony Curtis), one black (Sidney Poitier)—in a Southern chain gang are being transported in a van when the vehicle crashes. They escape, and what follows is a story of the tensions between the two, being forced to flee cross-country together―mostly through swamplands―until they find a way of breaking the four-foot chain that binds them.
As some will know, I’ve been working on-and-off (in recent years mostly off) since early 2009 on a book about Lon Chaney Jr, entitled Moonlight Shadows.
During 2020’s Pan(dem)ic Season, I found myself dusting the project off, and have actually done quite a lot of new work on it. Tons of revisions, tons of new research, lots of new writing.
I said recently in an email that I thought Huxley had it nailed—the most effective form of oppression isn’t force and violence. It’s privilege and comfort. Make the prison cell a luxuriant one and they won’t complain. Mostly.
But I’m not sure it’s 100% there, actually, because so many people these days have the weary, joyless resignation of utter defeat rather than ignorant bliss. I think this expanding technology, heralded by the Internet explosion since the Millennium, for all its addictive, compulsive, habit-forming qualities—this surfeit of neverending distraction—is not, in truth, a very happy addiction.
Things used to be more fun, folks.