The Intruder was one of the screenshots in DV’s current Movie Alphabet Quiz. In 1961 Roger Corman wrote and directed this film. For years it was very difficult to find it, but the search was worth your trouble.
The movie is a weird one to see with 20/20 hindsight: William Shatner will forever be remembered as Captain Kirk, Roger Corman is the man people know from B movies with shoestring budgets (like the medieval The Undead, which was shot in an abandoned supermarket in nine days).
Who would expect such a serious movie from these two people?
I didn’t rent the film myself, I saw it at a friend’s place. The only thing I knew about the movie was that William Shatner played the main character (Adam Cramer). If you don’t know what’s going to happen, the film will shock you even more than when you have a few ideas about it.
The film was based on a book by Charles Beaumont. The big studios didn’t want to touch this film, but Corman did. The movie was – as one could expect from Corman – shot on a tiny budget ($80.000), but still managed to lose money at the box office (as was predicted by the studios).
We, a global nation of filmlovers, know it is not box office success that decides whether a film is good or bad. Being released on VHS (albeit hard to find) and DVD gave the movie to shine, more than a generation after its release. Let’s take a look at the film.
The Intruder starts with Cramer arriving in a little town. The law just made it possible for black kids to go to the same school as white kids and the people in town don’t like that idea at all, but the law is the law and so they live with it. Even in the first five minutes The Intruder shocks you: Adam checks into the hotel and the woman in charge tells her husband to carry Adam’s luggage upstairs. The man is lazy and doesn’t want to do it, but dares not to contradict his wife. She tells Cramer: “He’s so lazy you’d think he’d have nigger blood running through his veins.” In this brilliant scene Corman succeeds in letting you know how the woman and some of the people hanging around feel about the situation, but you don’t know about Adam Cramer’s feelings.
When the Shatner character arrives, you think he’s there to change the people and make them less repulsed by the black community. Then another shock hits you: he’s there to do the opposite. He learns the villagers what they can do to fight the law and the black students. Corman tells this very sec. You know he has to feel sympathy for the black people, but he hardly shows it. That’s what makes this movie so great: you feel all the anger and the pain and the effects aren’t spoiled by mushy music.
Cramer meets the couple living next door to him. They have no sympathy for him at all, but they try to hide their disgust. The man is a salesman and frequently has to go out of town on business. Shatner uses one of those opportunities to go next door. The woman doesn’t really want to, but Adam doesn’t mind.
This semi-rape and adultery aren’t the only crimes the Shatner character commits: really early in the movie e.g. he has sex with a underage girl. That’s the cruellest part of the movie: it’s bad enough for the villages to attack the black community, but they are led by a man probably guilty of more crimes than you can name in ten seconds.
At one point in the movie there’s a scene where Shatner holds a speech in front of almost the whole village. They listen eagerly to his racist peptalk, but we can see one man having doubts. Just after the speech we see how a black family wants to drive through town and almost gets lynched by the mob. That same man (the father of the underage girl) tries to stop them and only just succeeds. He still isn’t fond of black people, but he hates the lynching mob more. That’s when he starts to fight for the rights of the black children. You know that people are going to “learn him a lesson”, but what they do, is more than the beating you expected.
The man living next door to Cramer understands that the situation has become so hot that Adam couldn’t alter it even if he wanted to. Cramer doesn’t believe him and goes on with his pestering. But the man is right: the situation has gotten out of hand. What follows can only be intense. And it is.
The Intruder was so shocking it was hard for Corman to find anyone who wanted to distribute it. The movie flopped, but not because of its quality. It’s one of the most daring films I’ve ever seen. For Corman as well as for a terrific William Shatner. One last note: the people in the town where the movie was shot (some of them had a part in the film) thought Shatner played the hero in the film. Is there more one needs to add?
A forgotten gem.
P.S. The Intruder was released on DVD in 2002. The movie is presented in widescreen and the extras include an essential conversation between Shatner and Corman and some trailers.