Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Best Actor 1958: Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones

Tony Curtis received his only Oscar nomination for playing the white escaped convict John "Joker" Jackson in The Defiant Ones.

The Defiant Ones I felt was a fairly effective drama about  a white and a black chain gang runaways who learn more about each other as they try to out run the law. Many seem to think this film is overly heavy handed and overbearing. I never felt that though.

Tony Curtis plays the southern white man who is chained to the black man. This is a good example of two leads working well together. Neither tries to steal scenes from the other and they rather work well together. Curtis plays his part very well actually. His accent is not overdone, although it is not perfect, but it work fine.
Curtis could have really overplayed his character the  whole way through. He could have been just an over the top racist character, and then his transition to caring about Poitier's character would have been completely strange and unjustified. Instead Curtis plays it much better, as a man with some racist tendencies but he is not only that. Curtis could have done a lot of overacting but he never does. When he calls Poitier's character various things he never makes it seem too obtuse, instead it shows it as merely the way the man is.

Curtis shows well that the character himself tries to put down the Poitier character because he basically wants to try to see someone lower in society than him. Curtis portrays his frustrations well, and fully realizes Joker as a person and not some symbolic character. Particularly strong scenes for Curtis are when he tries to stop a possibly lynching of himself, or when he talks about his knowledge of lynching. Another strong scene is when he is with the single mother they hold up with briefly. His scene where he describes his dreams is very well handled.

The best part of his performance though is how his character changes. Curtis never just does it but makes it gradual and possibly due to how he played Joker at the beginning. Curtis shows that the man naturally learned to change his view of Poitier's character, and it is not artificial at all as it could have been. Curtis' performance on a whole is very good, and works well for the film. He never has a scene which is unbelievably good, but he is always good, in a part that could have easily been played poorly.


joe burns said...

Great review! Sounds like an interesting performance...... I guess he'll come in third.

Anonymous said...

Did you feel that Tony Curtis was always one of those actors who always played themselves? Kinda like Warren Beatty or George Clooney.

Louis Morgan said...

I know what you mean about Clooney and Beatty, and Curtis was kind of doing that in Spartacus and Some Like it Hot, but I did not feel he was doing that in this.