Archive for February, 2010

The Great Unwatched #3: The Intruder

Posted in Ramblings, The Great Unwatched with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2010 by Andrew T. Smith

Another unwatched movie, another Corman. The Intruder (1962) tells the story of Adam Cramer, a racist rabble rouser who descends upon a small town in the American south intending to spark nothing less than an all out race war. In fact, the film is recognised as one of the first to directly address America’s civil rights issues during the mid twentieth century. All too often Roger Corman gets classified as a cheapskate genre filmmaker, but while it is true that he knew how to make movies of incredible scope on miniscule budgets, a movie like The Intruder, which he calls his most personal film, is all the evidence needed to cement his reputation as one of the most important filmmakers of the American new wave.

The film hangs upon William Shatner’s fantastic, intimating, vulnerable, mysterious, pre-Star Trek performance as Adam Cramer. The character of Cramer is interesting because we know so little about him. He claims to represent the Patrick Henry Society back in Washington DC and we learn that he was raised in California but that is about all we learn. Although he wastes no time in charming his way into the lives of the townspeople he never comes across as anything other than an outsider. Questions always hangs over his head; who does he represent, why does he hate Negroes, why does he seek control of the townspeople?

In a number of scenes there are subtle hints that Cramer might even be an outsider in relation to humanity – a messenger from hell. He arrives in town wearing incongruous dark shades, as if unused to sunlight. Peering out of the window during his seduction of his neighbour’s wife the rabble rouser gazes at his handiwork. Corman chooses this moment to superimpose the burning cross Cramer has facilitated over Shatner’s face. He’s also able to control the temperature of the room, even if all his actually does is to switch the lights off and talk his potential conquest into believing he has taken control of the situation. He worms his way into the lives of most of the townsfolk, praying on their vanity and insecurities. Interestingly, The Intruder is based on a novel by Charles Beaumont, who also features in the film as the High School Principle. Beaumont was a key contributor to Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone – as was our good friend George Clayton Johnson who also plays a role – and it is easy to see how, with just a slight injection of the fantastic, this film could have easily sat alongside episodes in that socially conscious anthology series.

Perhaps the key to Cramer’s role in The Intruder can be found in one line of dialogue from the closest thing the film has to a hero. The town’s newspaper editor says, “One thing Adam Cramer’s done for us. He’s made us face ourselves.” Aside from a lot of talk, Cramer does nothing. In the case of the clan members, or the mob, he brings to their racial prejudice, fear and violent natures to the boil. In the case of people like Tom the newspaper editor, or Sam Griffin his salesman neighbour from the hotel, he brings forth selflessness, bravery, tolerance and love.

On the production side, the film captures the claustrophobia of small minded rabble rousing particularly well, with good performances from a relatively small cast of unknowns and actual townspeople who had little idea of the context of their appearances. Certain scenes even reminded me of the Zombie attacks in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead series, with scores of bodies blocking the frame, rather than cramped interiors or low key lighting, creating a sense of entrapment and making good use of his limited cast.

Only one point in the movie is let down by Corman’s anaemic budget. Not to give anything away but at the closing of Charles Beaumont’s original novel, the national guard have to be called in to calm the townspeople. This was out of the question given the resources the filmmakers had available to them and so the film’s ending suffers somewhat. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean.

Sandwiched in-between entries in Corman’s Poe series, the intruder stands out in his filmography. Cinema-goers, too, must have noticed this shift in tone, as they stayed away in droves even though critics on both sides of the atlantic sang the film’s praises. You can see the impact this must have had on Corman in his later work. Although he would return to anti-establishment and socially conscious themes during the 1960s and 70s, from this point on he would always approach projects from a commercially viable,  exploitation standpoint.

For anybody sufficiently interested, the entire movie is available to watch online for FREE at archive.org under it’s re-release title, Shame and Youtube carries a brief behind the scenes documentary.

Carpool: Review

Posted in Sites of Interest with tags , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2010 by Andrew T. Smith

Robert Llewellyn’s Carpool is a series i really should have written about sooner, as I have been watching it from the start and can’t recommend  it enough. The premise of this web only chat-show is simple; each week actor/writer/comedian/nice guy Robert Llewellyn invites a guest into his car for a chat. These guests can range from the famous (Patrick Stewart, Stephen Fry, Craig Charles) to the relatively unknown but still incredibly interesting (Charlie McDonnell, Michael Eavis, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones).

The real pleasure in tuning in to Carpool each week is that there is no real agenda to any of the shows. Funding the series himself for the hell of it, Llewellyn doesn’t need to seek advertising space and so doesn’t have to showcase  guests who can pull in high ratings, nor does he have to follow any particular line of questioning. I used the term ‘chat’ above for a reason; these aren’t heavily structured, Parkinson-like interviews. Put simply the guest gets into the car, say hello and then both parties are free to waffle on about anything that comes to mind. As a result of this looseness I think I’ve learned a lot of things about subjects I otherwise wouldn’t be inclined to seek out and research. Until last week, for example, I had no idea there was such a thing as a skeptic movement, but there is – and they talk a lot of sense.

At around 20 minutes an episode the chats are edited down to just about the right length, although I know of some friends who find this amount off time too long to be sat paying attention at a computer screen. I don’t think this reflects badly on the show at all, but rather points to the fact that internet television is still evolving, still trying to hold our attention when the next slice of interaction is only a click away. Carpool, though, I think is on the right track; doing something television can’t or doesn’t particularly want to do.

Anyway, judge for yourself; Carpool – avaialble FREE at Robert Llewellyn’s website or via itunes.

Anything Can Happen And It Probably Will…

Posted in Marx Brothers, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2010 by Andrew T. Smith

Having just returned from a successful screening of this film to an appreciative audience, the time seems right to expound a little upon one of my favourite film comedies, Hellzapoppin’. This obscure title certainly deserves to be better known and here is my own attempt to make this happen.

Hellzapoppin’ tells the story – well, sort of tells the story – of a Hollywood producer trying to film a movie about Hellzapoppin‘. Does that make sense? Good. Despite his best efforts at describing a potential storyline the film is constantly hijacked by Olsen and Johnson, a master of disguise private detective and even the projectionist at the back of the very cinema in which you sit watching the film. Basically, a thin romantic subplot is used an excuse for eighty minutes on non stop puns, innovative visual gags and metatextual anarchy. No matter how many ways I think up to describe the film nothing seems to do it justice. It’s that weird. The best I can come up with is the description, “Wathching Hellzapoppin’ is like watching the Marx Brothers on speed.”

Based on a hit Broadway play, Hellzapoppin’ is the type of film to throw a lot of elements into a bucket, stir them with a big stick, and then pour the mixture into your eyeballs. Verbal gags, slapstick comedy, romance, musical numbers, fourth wall breaking, dance sequences and special effects are all incorporated and the result is one of the weirdest films ever to be produced during the ‘golden age’ of the Hollywood studio system.

Thanks to the rights to the Broadway play complicating any plans to re-release the film in America, Hellzapoppin’ has been quite difficult to see until fairly recently when it was released on Region 2 DVD. Yet, despite being so difficult to see for so long, it isn’t hard to see the influence it has exerted over certain strains of  American film comedy that were to follow. In particular, parallels can be drawn between this and the work of Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs) or early efforts from the Zucker Brothers (Airplane!, Kentucky Fried Movie). Joe Dante, the director of Hollywood Boulevard, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, Matinée and Small Soldiers amongst other films, freely admits that he steals from Hellzapoppin’ in order to lace his own films with gags; his perfectly justified reasoning being if nobody has seen it, why let a good gag go to waste!

Olsen and Johnson, however, are an odd team. Their role in Hellzapoppin’ is to literally draw the viewer in to this crazy world, the humour of which relies very little upon the interaction between the two. They’re likeable, not loveable, and have no particularly distinguishing characteristics that stick in the mind. In my experience the team’s other films, while on the whole enjoyable, really strongly on strong writers to gain laughs. In fact only one of their movies, Crazy House, is generally thought of as coming anywhere near the standard set by Hellzapoppin’. Still, they must have had something, and I in know way intend to knock their performances, which are first rate. Clearly too they were capable of writing great material for themselves, as they are credited as having written the original broadway book for the Hellzapoppin’. Perhaps studios insisted on outside writers.

But I digress, simply put, more people should see this film. And now that it’s out on DVD there is no excuse. Watch it. Love it. Spread the word! I’m working on my own secret project to help raise the profile of the film in some small way.

Further Reading

Shooting Down Pictures