The movie itself is a complicated grab-bag of genres. Having never seen the film from front to back, StinkyLulu expected The Defiant Ones to track the way it is conventionally remembered. References to The Defiant Ones tend to emphasize the chemistry/relationship of leading men Sidney Poitier & Tony Curtis, considering the film an cinematic exercise in racial tolerance with the chains linking them as a device/metaphor to describe the intransigent mutual tethers uniting-not-dividing white and black America at midcentury. Fair enough. (Poitier/Curtis relationship also -- o'course -- also informs queerer readings of the film as the prototype for the homosocial supermasculine buddy/romance movies of the 1970s & 1980s.)
Such conventional ways of remembering The Defiant Ones neglect the two other main story arcs in the film. The first -- the finely calibrated parallel narrative of the manhunt -- actually provides the structure of the film. See, structurally, the film's mostly an "escape caper" (esCaper?) where a good deal of the narrative pleasure derives from the anti-heroes narrowly escaping from scrape after scrape as they somehow elude capture. (This genre becomes all the more formalized in the 1970s & 1980s as well -- The Warriors is perhaps Lulu's favorite of this genre -- until things get to TV's Alias in the '00s and then, well, anyway....) But there's a third genre structuring The Defiant Ones as well (& this is where Cara Williams finally gets in the mix): the cracker comedy of manners.
As the "The Woman," Cara Williams is Southern sexpot in dungarees. And though she ain't quite a Griselda, Williams' Woman is definitely "enflamed" the second she sees Tony Curtis. With every aching turn of her neck, Williams ebodies both the libidinal license and racist banalities of Hollywood's vision of the South. It's an expertly efficient performance. Williams creates with glares and glances a simple woman who "likes pretty things" (like Tony Curtis), who wants more than anything to go to Mardi Gras, and who is more than willing to send Poitier to his death in order to secure her own escape. It's a pivotal performance, pungent and memorable. And while Williams' work is a bit "conspicuous" for StinkyLulu's taste, it's no surprise that Williams snagged the nomination with this work. What's sad is that, in discussion of The Defiant Ones Cara Williams' work -- the highpoint of her strangely scanty career -- has been nearly forgotten.
Another example of the potential cruelty of of a kiss from Oscar.