Monday, August 17, 2015

Roger Corman's THE INTRUDER

TV's original Captain Kirk from Star Trek in a car with members of a local Ku Klux Klan?  Yes.  And this image comes in an indie movie from 1962 directed by Roger Corman and starring William Shatner.  This was before TV made the actor way more famous than movies ever did.  When writing about and interviewing William Shatner, rarely does his early Broadway and film career get mentioned.  He had a supporting role in Judgment at Nuremberg.  He acted opposite Spencer Tracy in that gripping courtroom drama about the Holocaust and Nazi crimes against humanity during World War  2.  The cast included Burt Lancaster, Maximiliam Schell, Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland.  Shatner was good in a film that earned 11 Oscar nominations including Best Picture of 1961.  Shatner followed Judgment at Nuremberg with another solid performance in a very effective drama about racism, one that feels more honest than the Oscar-nominated Mississippi Burning. Roger Corman's scorching, small-budgeted drama got a small release and lost money.  It wasn't like his popular Vincent Price horror flicks and creature feature drive-in B-movies that appealed to teens in the 1960s and 70s.  Director/producer Corman deserved more regard than he initially got for this film.  William Shatner as The Intruder feels relevant today in this age of President Obama, "Black Lives Matter" and the Charleston church shootings.  The Intruder, Adam Cramer, comes to a small Southern town.  A handsome and charming man in a white suit, he's really a sociopath intent on fanning the flames of racial hatred.  He calls himself a "social worker."
The law has declared that ten black students can attend a previously all-white school.  Many white Southerners in the town do not like desegregation, but they comply with the law.  The Intruder connives to get the townspeople to revolt against integration.
In the early 1960s, desegregation was America's biggest problem and a red hot national issue.  Some of those indie movies from the 1960s had more guts that some product today.  They dealt with the reality head on and didn't soften truth with political correctness.  We hear the word "nigger" in the first five minutes of The Intruder.  It's said casually by the sweet-faced little old lady who registers Cramer at the hotel.  Cramer flirts with and will later manipulate the daughter of the town newspaperman.  She attends the newly-integrated high school.  The reporter is in the crowd at the rally Adam Cramer holds to energize townsfolk into lynch mob behavior.
At his nighttime rally, Cramer warns the white people against the NAACP.  He tells them it's associated with Communist and Jews.  He tells them that one Jewish judge "is known to have leftist leanings."  The journalist shouts out and asks for proof, challenging Cramer.  Cramer has no proof but he has the attention of the crowd and one of the newspaper's top stockholders.  Cramer warns them of black mayors, black policemen, black governors and black doctors if they don't stop integration now.  He declares that he's doing what he's doing because he's American and he loves his country.  Says Cramer, "I thought this was a democracy and I thought a democracy was based on a collective will of the people."  To him, a democracy has no room for race-mixing.

Roger Corman's The Intruder runs only about 84 minutes.  It's quite strong.  Keep in mind when you see this 1962 film that, in 1963, America would see Dr. Martin Luther King's historic March on Washington for Civil Rights in August.  The month after the march, four little girls would be killed in the racist bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama church.  Here's the movie while it's still available on YouTube.
The brunette wife of the lusty man in the hotel room next to Cramer's is played by Jeanne Cooper.  She went on to TV stardom as a regular on the daytime drama, The Young and the Restless.

At one point, a mob of angry white men rushes at and surrounds a car with a black family in it.  The family is taunted, the car rocked and the husband is forced out of the car.  The family wants no trouble. The black husband is spat on.  The journalist charges in to stop the abuse.  He later tells how the crowd "terrorized" the married couple and two little kids.  I thought of the irritation black people (myself included) felt with some news outlets that did not call the racist shooting murders of nine black people in a Charleston, South Carolina church this summer an act of terrorism.

Monday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, host Steve Inskeep introduced a feature with memories of former NAACP chairman, Julian Bond.  Mr. Bond passed away last weekend at age 75.  Inskeep mentioned the major impression Bond made on him when he was young and saw Julian Bond on a TV news show debate actor Gene Hackman with elegance and strength.  Hackman was promoting Mississippi Burning, a Civil Rights era drama that got Hackman an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and a nomination for Best Picture of 1988.  The film is loosely based on the FBI investigation into the murders of three young civil rights workers (two white, one black) in Mississippi in 1964.  Inskeep said that Bond praised Hackman on his excellent performance then proceeded to state why Mississippi Burning was not a good film.  For one thing, the civil rights drama had not one black actor in a key role.  Inskeep added that Julian Bond was so brilliant in his argument that Hackman pretty much agreed with him.  The Intruder has black people in it.  Not professional actors you've heard of...but you see families and you see students walking bravely to school.
Corman also realizes that bigotry, as the Rodgers & Hammerstein song in South Pacific says, has to be "Carefully Taught."  In a scene in which the innocent black student accused of rape confronts the crowd with lynch mob mentality on a playground, notice that there are youngsters in the crowd too.

Corman gave many actors such as Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Robert De Niro and Peter Fonda their start.  He was mentor to director/actor Ron Howard.  Corman was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 2009.  I know Corman's totally fun monster movies, his hippie movies (The Trip, Wild Angels) and those entertaining Vincent Price flicks based on Edgar Allen Poe stories (The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tomb of Ligeia).  But I never saw The Intruder until this week.  Wow.  Thank you, Roger Corman.

The Intruder is now also available on DVD.

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