Buena Vista // 1962 // 83 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 5th, 2007
He fed their fears and turned neighbor against neighbor!
Who else can that tagline possibly refer to except William Shatner? That's right, before the Shat phasered his way into pop culture iconic status, he appeared in this 1962 Roger Corman indie film about racism and mob mentality and the effects a slippery-tongued jackass can have on a town full of yokels.
The Intruder is set in a Southern town just as it is about enter the new frontier of integration, when black children first started attending school with whites. Needless to say, the atmosphere is electric and everyone's on edge, preparing for the sweeping culture change that is about to impact the entire country.
Enter Adam Cramer (Shatner), a young, charismatic stranger who shows up at the bus stop and immediately starts stirring the pot. Cramer has an agenda, and it's to provoke the townsfolk to rise up against the integration policy, and, perhaps, encourage the perpetration of heinous violence against the black population.
Resisting Cramer's hatemongering is Tom McDaniel (Frank Maxwell), the editor for the local newspaper and one of the few whites willing to take a stand against the discrimination. But thanks to Cramer, the town is a tinderbox and no one is safe from the rampaging horde when they get worked up and, eventually, the people will be faced with a choice: shed the influence of the Intruder or pursue his venomous propaganda to its endgame.
And while it would usually be very easy to do whatever Shatner says, in this film the guy sucks. Or, rather his character sucks. Hand it to Shatner: he brings home the bacon when it comes to playing a slick, twisted racist. The Intruder is fine little film and one that Corman should receive for credit for. It's sometimes brutal to watch, but embedded in the ceaseless N-word dropping and the caricatures of humanity at its lowest is a message of hope. Not everyone is subject to their darkest impulses and are willing to jettison their moral compass because of mob rule and those stories -- of McDaniel and the high school principal and later Sam Griffin (Leo Gordon), another white guy standing up to the townspeople -- are deeply satisfying.
Corman's ultimate message in this film is that doing the right thing is often very obvious, but it can have traumatic costs. In the case of The Intruder, those costs are severe, but that's what add to the dramatic ka-pow of the storytelling and the acting. Yes, The Intruder can be an uncomfortable reminder of where we've come from, but the heroism of the few that stood against the many is a potent reminder of how far we've come and that there are people who contain the capacity to do great things when the majority is aligned against them.
Acting is strong all around. The supporting actors, especially Charles Barnes, who played Joe Greene, one of the black students central to the plot, do impressive work, but it begins and ends with Shatner, who turns in a sinister, energetic, villainous performance.
This DVD special edition is somewhat special. The full screen (black and white) transfer is adequate, but flawed in places, considering the age of the original materials. For audio, the 2.0 mono projects the sound adequately and that's pretty much all we can ask of it. The high point of the re-release is "Remembering The Intruder," a new featurette with Corman and Shatner recollecting on their experience making the film. B Both are forthcoming in their love for the film and Corman especially is charming and charismatic. It's a nice supplement.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1962
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Retrospective Featurette