Written by Puño Estupendo
Roger Corman has made a lot of movies in his career. As a producer, he's given many directors their start and is responsible for more than one actor to have gotten their first screen time before going on to become successful with the Hollywood A-list. But upon watching the newly released DVD of his 1962 film The Intruder, I was reminded that Roger Corman is quite a capable director in his own right.
The Intruder begins with the arrival of Adam Cramer by bus to a small southern town. While Cramer is having a talk with the elderly woman who runs the local boarding house, Corman sets up an environment that seems friendly enough at first glance, but then reveals that there's something unsettling here as well. The news of the day is that school is about to start up but there is a major development that is not sitting well with the townsfolk. For the first time, black children are going to be allowed to attend the same school as the white children. This is what Cramer has come to town for. He, and the organization he claims is backing him, feels that although this is now the law, it is far from the final word on the subject.
He starts sizing up what he's dealing with. A lot of glad-handing, some sweet talk here and there, and quick visits to the power players in town, allow Mr. Cramer to get a foothold in the community very quickly. He discovers that the most common opinion with everyone is that they don't like the thought of blacks being in the school, but it is the law and you have to respect the law.
Through his charisma and manipulation of everyone around him, Adam successfully fires the town up to the point of boiling over. From the blatantly obvious (a town-square rally where he delivers quite a speech) to secret plans behind his public persona, Cramer seems to have everything going according to plan.
William Shatner delivers a good performance here. Yes, you get some of the cliché mannerisms that people mock him for, but his take is strong and vibrant. This is a young Shatner in this movie and he's got energy bursting at the seams but it's well placed for the most part.
The auxiliary cast is a catch-22, though. Cast with actual townsfolk as much as possible, this adds to the sense of realism but also creates some stilted dialogue here and there. Still, the thing I found that had the biggest impact was how different the film felt from other movies that deal with issues of race. This isn't taking a look back at the issue; this was made while this was the issue, and it showed. Roger Corman deserves a lot of credit here. This had to be incredibly gutsy for him to have made at the time. In an interview on the disc, he reveals some of the fear he had in the town where they shot, which is why he kept some of the plot points a secret from locals for fear of being driven out of town.
Be warned that the language here is unflinching. Use of the word “nigger” is commonplace in the dialogue and is very disturbing. There's not really any other profanity in the script and that makes the racial slurs even uglier because of it, which it should be. This is the film's strong point: it deals with the ugliness head-on without any glorification or hesitation and provokes the viewer to have to deal with it.
At a running time of 83 minutes, The Intruder left me in a state of emotion I wouldn't have guessed it would have at first glance. Much more powerful than I assumed it was going to be, and Roger Corman should be very proud. This is a very fine film and it outdoes a lot of films twice its size and budget.