William Shatner is ‘The Intruder’ free on Kanopy

The Intruder (1962) is the greatest irony of Roger Corman’s filmmaking career.

After cranking out dozens of exploitation quickies and gaining recognition for his widescreen Edgar Allen Poe series, he put up his own resources to produce a serious work of drama on the explosive issue of racism and integration. Shot on location in Missouri near Little Rock, where he and his crew faced bigotry first hand when the locals found exactly what they were actually shooting, the film went on to win rave reviews and film festival prizes. It also became Corman’s first film to lose money.

William Shatner (in his first leading role on the big screen) delivers a measured but simmering performance as Adam Cramer, a cool, charismatic white supremacist who arrives in a small southern town on the eve of school integration and rouses the smoldering white citizens to mob violence. With a cagey smile and a glad handing manner, the would-be pedagogue spins a “Music Man”-like sales pitch, only he’s hawking hate. In classic Shatner fashion he unravels in spastic histrionics as events escalate and he loses his grip on the crowd.

There are few weak performances in the smaller roles and the film at times slips into didactic speeches, but Corman’s strong direction drives home the film in powerful scenes and striking imagery: Cramer’s incendiary speech on the courthouse steps, the deathly quiet KKK ride through the black part of town. By the climax Corman understands that controlled silence is even more terrifying than a mob’s thundering cries.

Daring for its day, The Intruder is a startling look at the politics of racism and its provocative and affecting scenes of bigotry and hatred (many of them with stinging slaps of the “n” word) makes up for the plastic wrap-thin separation between text and subtext and the over-anxious exposition.

It was a passion project for Corman, who was anxious to make something “important,” and he was stung by the film’s box-office failure. It was a lesson he took to heart. In future films, he sold his projects with entertainment and snuck his themes under the surface. But give the filmmaker credit: he kept the rights to the film and decades later, after various home video releases and TV sales, The Intruder eventually made a profit.

The Twilight Zone veteran Charles Beaumont adapted his own novel and the film costars character actors Robert Emhardt and Leo Gordon, who are familiar faces to movies and TV shows of 1950s and 1960s. It was also released under the titles Shame and I Hate Your Guts.

Black and white, not rated, features offensive racist language.

Also on DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Intruder [DVD]

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The DVD release features the 9-minute interview featurette “Remembering the Intruder” with director Roger Corman and star William Shatner.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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