A truck transporting chain gang convicts back to prison crashes on a rainswept Southern road. This causes two of the prisoners to escape, who are chained together: Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier), an angry black man imprisoned for violently beating a white man who insulted him, and John “Joker” Jackson (Tony Curtis), a Southern white bigot arrested for theft.
Humanitarian Sheriff Max Muller (Theodore Bikel), under pressure from the governor, organizes a posse of state troopers and zealous civilian volunteers, but refuses to unleash a volunteer’s brutal Dobermans. This bothers the ambitious hotheaded police captain Frank Gibbons, who could care less if he captures the men dead or alive. These two viewpoints represent the different ways the law looked upon crime and racism.
Meanwhile, the disagreeable chained cons argue about which direction they should take. They finally choose to make their way through the swamp and experience all kinds of physical hardships navigating that course, whereby they must learn to rely on each other for support while chained together. Soon they are captured by a lynch mob but are rescued by Big Sam (Lon Chaney Jr.), himself a former convict. The men are later sheltered by a lonely, love-starved abandoned mother (Cara Williams) with a son named Billy, who offers to turn in Cullen if Joker will stay with her. By this time the cons, who have gone through so much together, have become friends, and the tempting offer is first taken but then refused. It results in the now unchained cons trying to hop on a train to freedom in the north with the posse in hot pursuit. —Ozu’s World of Movie Reviews
Stanley Kramer made his reputation during the 1950s and 60s as one of the few producers and directors willing to tackle issues most studios sought to avoid, such as racism, the Holocaust and nuclear annihilation. He came to Hollywood an aspiring writer and hooked on with MGM, working first as a scenery mover and carpenter and then in their research department before spending three years there as an editor. He wrote for radio as well as for Columbia and Republic Studios for awhile, but it was as a strong-willed independent producer that Kramer would finally make his mark. Though his first feature (“So This Is New York”, 1948) flopped, he hit his stride with his next one, the intense and exciting anti-boxing pic “Champion” (1949), which propelled Kirk Douglas to stardom and launched Mark Robson’s career as an important director.
The series of commercially successful economy productions that followed, by turns prestigious and socially responsible and all scripted by “Champion” screenwriter… read more