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