The Great Unwatched #3: The Intruder

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.

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3 Responses to “The Great Unwatched #3: The Intruder”

  1. We just finished a documentary about Charles Beaumont. We used several scenes from The Intruder and interviewed Roger Corman, William Shatner, William F. Nolan, George Claytong Johnson and Frank Robinson (who appear in the film).
    There are some hilarious (and scary) behind the scenes stories about the making of the film.

  2. I will definitely check this out! Thanks for the review.

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