Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Intruder (1962)


Today's second part of the JM DeMatteis suggested weekend concerns what many to be consider the best film Roger Corman ever directed, The Intruder. It’s a film about hate mongering in a small town and was a flop in its day. It made Corman move away from message films and back into the exploitation world that he is most associated with. The film stars William Shatner before he became Captain Kirk and before his acting ability is was made fun of.

The Intruder (also known as Shame and I Hate Your Guts) was a timely tale of a hate monger going into a small town and stirring up racial hatred. The man, playe by Shatner, is said to be a social reformer and he has all of these very good reasons why the schools and society shouldn't be integrated. The problem is that the hatred he inspires rapidly gets away from him and it isn't long before lives are in danger from mob violence.

I am a huge Roger Corman fan. I love what he did in film, both as a director but more as a producer. Without Corman we would never have had films by Pam Grier, or Ron Howard (at least as director) or Robert DeNiro or Marty Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola. The films of Ingmar Bergman and dozens of other foreign directors would never have been released in the US had he not released them. He made some of the most fun movies out there, Attack of the Crab Monsters and Battle Beyond the Stars and Death Race 2000. He changed movies for the better and the worse.

Corman as a filmmaker always seemed conflicted. Yes he could turn out the Poe Films (Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, House of Usher, etc.) but he also strove to make serious and serious minded films which unfortunately got chopped up by the distributors because they didn't want what he was giving them (his Gasssssssss had the social commentary removed as well as the character of God.) The Intruder was Corman's one unexpurgated shot at making a serious movie.

As I said the film bombed. The film was retitled as among other things, I Hate Your Guts and dumped into the exploitation market across the South. People going to the drive in didn't want to be lectured, they wanted to have fun and this movie was a lecture as well as being a good drama (of the sort that didn't belong in the drive-in).

Say what you will this is a really good look at what hate does to a community and to the people who expose it or even keep it hidden inside them. I like that the film is not safe, its a small budget film that is dealing with real people. No one is absolutely one thing one way or another. There is a complexity most films don't have.

Its lack of budget is something that gives the film an real edge. At a time when Hollywood wasn't really dealing with the race problem in any real way except through an occasional big budget whitewashed film, Corman waded in and made a film that actually mattered. The only person who was actually trying to do anything similar was Stanley Kramer, but he was tied up in the studio/Hollywood system so he was reduced to blunting some of the edge so we ended up with the Defiant Ones and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, both good films but ones I kind of wish had more bite.

Social relevance aside the film itself is a good little drama. It's a film that grips you and drags you along the way as events change people and things don't always go the way you expect. The biggest thing you don't expect is how good William Shatner is.

I'm not sure if I'm impressed with the film because I find it so surprising at how good William Shatner is or because it's just a damn fine film. I'm guessing that its because of both reasons.

Shatner plays the villain and he really bites into the role with abandon. There is none of the silly performance that he would churn out as Captain Kirk, nor is there any sign of the buffoonery that would mark his more recent comedy roles. This is a straight forward role about a man who seems to have your best interests at heart but is really a viper underneath. Shatner sells the role for all its worth and you really come to despise the man, and in a weird way you kind of pity him at the end. There is a depth and a range that Shatner would rarely show anywhere else. Partly because I think he got typecast and partly because being stuck on TV limited the quality parts.

An aside: if you want to see another Shatner role where he's very good from about the same time track down Leslie Stevens (he's the creator of The Outer Limits) horror film The Incubus. Its a footnote film being the first film in Esperanto. Despite being uncomfortable with the language (something all the actors are) Shatner turns in a damn fine performance that makes it clear he's a better actor than we give him credit for.

Honestly you owe it to yourself to track this film down. Its an eye opening film that proves a variety of things. First that not every film coming out of Hollywood about race relations in the early 1960's was politically acceptable. It also proves that WIlliam Shatner is actually a good actor despite what you may think. And it proves that somewhat maligned Roger
Corman could reach for the stars and actually grab one or two even if no one wanted to see the fact.

Currently out on DVD from several sources some as cheap as a buck.

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