Roger Corman's The Intruder: The Culture of Fear Now vs. Then
The Intruder (aka Shame) (1962)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont (from his novel)
After a few annoying mishaps with a scratched DVD, I was finally able to watch Roger Corman's excellent film The Intruder for the first time. Corman is obviously recognized for his important contributions to independent and especially super low budget filmmaking as a successful producer of over 300 films. He is also an accomplished director, helming 50 of his own films, including his gorgeous takes on Edgar Allen Poe classic tales like The Masque of Red Death and The Pit and the Pendulum. Lesser known is The Intruder, an intense social commentary on the turbulent fight for the equal treatment of black citizens. The backdrop of Corman's film is the struggle for integration in America's schools in the 60's. The Intruder has the unfortunate distinction of being the only Corman film to lose money, though it ranks as one of his best efforts. Shot in crisp black and white, it surpasses most films of a similar theme with its stunning cinematography and uncompromising take on the subject.
I was surprised by what an intense film experience The Intruder turned out to be. Even being a seasoned viewer of some very brutal films, I winced a few times at just how provocatively Corman's film displayed ignorance, racism, and senseless violence. This is no watered down, sappy ending Oscar hopeful by any means. It was clearly made to show the shocking and depressing reality of bigotry and racism in our country, as well as the violence seething underneath. The film is as timely as ever, and while we may have shifted our bigotry to accomodate the needs of the time, it is quite clear that the seeds of hate are easily planted and nurtured with heaping helpings of fear with a sly smile.
William Shatner shines as opportunistic racist Adam Cramer, newly arrived via bus to a small town in Missouri. A likeable fellow, he introduces himself to various folks as a "reformist". From the get go, he prods the townsfolk to gauge their feelings about integration, equal rights, and the black citizens in general. To his delight, he finds that most of the population harbor prejudice of some sort, and are strictly against the integration about to take place in their own town. Cramer, full of polish and confidence, quickly seduces the daughter of local press man Tom McDaniel (Frank Maxwell), as well as Vi, the wife of travelling salesman Sam Griffin. Cramer's charisma carries him to incite mob violence in a town torn between their own inherint racism and the law of the land. He positions himself in the ranks of those in power, and finds it very easy to manipulate the entire town to get what he wants. Once the wheels are set in motion, Cramer receives resistance from McDaniel who proves a constant thorn in Cramer's side. McDaniel is rewarded for his outspokeness with a terrible beating at the hands of some of the more mean-spirited good ole boys. Cramer employs the help of the KKK to push the town over into chaos, culminating in a near lynching of an innocent black student.
It's a crime that The Intruder isn't more recognized and respected in the film world. Corman put up his own money to make this serious and thoughtful political film only to have it relegated as an afterthought in his career. It's quite a potent piece of work and is certainly due for a revival, especially as our country is stirred into a frenzy by any number of nutjobs out preaching hate against immigrants, the gay community, or anyone else deemed "different" or "scary".
The Intruder Trailer