Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Intruder

This is the second Roger Corman movie I've seen in less than a month (I saw War of the Satellites at the Marathon). I normally don't inflict that upon myself, but Corman directing Shatner in a serious-minded film, which is not an expected combination. I must admit, I half-expected it to be a train wreck, but was happily surprised when it turned out to be a good movie. Maybe "best performance of Mr. Shatner's career" good, and I like me some Star Trek.

Speaking of which - there are moments in this movie where Shatner looks astonishingly like Chris Pine, who plays James T. Kirk in the new Trek movies. Obviously, the new Kirk was cast in part to evoke the old one, but it's really uncanny just how similar they looked at the age of 30 or 31. It's also worth noting that Shatner looks the most Pine-like in this movie when his character is at his most Satanic; I wonder if that plays into finding New Kirk just a bit more of a jackass than the old one.

It's kind of hard to believe that Corman and Shatner only worked together twice - in this movie and 1974's Corman-produced Big Bad Mama. Shatner's larger-than-life style would seem well-suited to Corman's 1960s material, but legend has it that Corman partially blamed Shatner for The Intruder being the one blemish on his spotless record of profitability. And, of course, by the end of the decade, Mr. Shatner had a steady job. Still, they made one pretty darn good movie together, and that's worth something.

The Intruder

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 March 2012 in the Paramount Theater Bright Family Screening Room (Crazie for Cult, 35mm)

You might not guess, based on the director (Roger Corman), star (William Shatner), and some of the titles it was released under (I Hate Your Guts!), but The Intruder is a high point in both men's careers and a pretty daring movie for the early 1960s. For a long time, it was said that this film is the only one on which Roger Corman ever lost money; it is arguably also one of the few where he had ambitions beyond making money. It's still surprisingly powerful today, fifty years after being ripped from the news.

On Monday, the high school in Caxford, Missouri will integrate with ten black students starting classes; a huge deal in 1962. No white person in town seems particularly happy about it; even liberal newspaperman Tom McDaniel (Frank Maxwell) seems more resigned to his daughter Ella (Beverly Lunsford) sitting next to a Negro than anything. At least, until Adam Cramer (Shatner) steps off the bus in his fine white suit. He's a "social activist" member of the "Patrick Henry Society" from Los Angeles (or Washington, depending on who he's talking to), and before he's even checked into his hotel, he's getting people agitated about the school integration. Soon he's making speeches to the townspeople and advances on Ella and Vi Griffin (Jeanne Cooper), the wife of the salesman in the next hotel room (Leo Gordon). Joey Greene (Charles Barnes) didn't expect his first day at his new school to be easy, but if Adam has his way, it may be his last.

The subjects of racism and resistance to the change that integration represents weren't completely absent from the screen in the early 1960s, but it still must have been rare for such volatile news of the day to be addressed so directly, especially at the hands of a guy like Corman who made his name on fun and thrills as opposed to confrontation. In some ways, the exploitation filmmaker in Corman is what makes The Intruder work - where more "respectable" directors might use euphemisms or hints, Corman uses the n-word, pointed hoods and burning crosses the way he might use a mummified corpse or a bucket of blood in a horror movie, tossing the nastiness right into the audience's face to get a visceral reaction. He's not entirely doing a brute-force attack; Corman knows how to create a sense of menace - just check out a great scene where Adam insinuates himself into Vi's hotel room while her husband Sam is away.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

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