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The Intruder (AKA I Hate Your Guts and Shame!) (1962) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique

cramer film corman school

Principal social themes: racism/civil rights, hate groups

Pathé American. No MPAA rating. Featuring: William Shatner, Frank Maxwell, Beverly Lundsford, Robert Emhardt, Jeanne Cooper, Leo Gordon, Charles Barnes, Charles Beaumont, Katherine Smith, George Clayton Johnson, William F. Nolan, Phoebe Rowe, Bo Dodd, Walter Kurtz, Ocee Ritch. Written by Charles Beaumont based on his novel The Intruder . Cinematography by Taylor Byars. Edited by Ronald Sinclair. Music by Herman Stein. Produced and directed by Roger Corman. B&W. 80 minutes.

Overview

This unique film was the first to portray the issue of school integration in the South. It was the first and only social issue film by Roger Corman, who previously had specialized in westerns, science fiction, horror, and juvenile delinquent films. After failing to obtain studio funding, Corman self-financed this effort with his brother Gene Corman for $80,000, and shot it entirely on location in and around Sikeston, Missouri. The Intruder was a critical success, garnering enthusiastic reviews from the New York Times , the Saturday Review , and the New York Herald Tribune . The picture, however, was a box office failure, which received very few bookings in the South. It led Corman to avoid social issues in his future films.

Synopsis

The credits are shown as the camera follows Californian Adam Cramer (William Shatner), a member of a northern segregationist movement known as The Patrick Henry Society, as he arrives by bus in the small, fictitious town of Caxton, Missouri. Cramer moves into the local hotel, making friends with traveling salesman Sam Griffin (Leo Gordon) and his wife, the only other regular residents of the hotel. He also flirts with Ella McDaniels, a high school student and daughter of the editor of the town paper. School integration is due to start that week in Caxton, and Cramer sounds out the feelings of the local residents about the issue. Many oppose the idea, but accept it as the law. Cramer urges organized resistance and starts working with Vern Shipman (Robert Emhardt), the town’s leading citizen. After a series of racist speeches, Cramer riles up the general populace. He joins the local Ku Klux Klan when they drive through the black section of town to burn a cross. When Sam Griffin is out of town, Cramer seduces his wife.

Events spiral out of Cramer’s control when a black church is bombed and the minister is killed. Accused of provoking the incident, Cramer is jailed, but the locals rally to his defense and he is released. Editor Tom McDaniels (Frank Maxwell) is incensed. When the local black students decide to pull out of the high school, McDaniels goes to them and urges them to continue. He personally escorts them to the school. Later, the editor is beaten by outraged citizens and hospitalized. Cramer knows that violence will hurt his cause, but he concocts a scheme that might help him to achieve his goal. He persuades Ella that her father will be killed unless she accuses one of the black students of trying to molest her. She fakes an attack in the supply room of the high school, and the accused young man is brought before the principal. A mob gathers when news of the incident spreads. Cramer urges that the accused student be escorted to the police station, but the mob, led by Shipman, intends to lynch him instead. Griffin turns up with Ella McDaniels, who reveals her false accusation to be one invented by Cramer. Shocked at the crime they were about to commit, the crowd disperses, and Shipman strikes Cramer, knocking him down. Griffin helps the racist up, telling him that he is through in Caxton and offers to drive him to the bus depot.

Critique

This film is one of the most effective and compelling portraits of the South in the late 1950s and early 1960s as it reeled under the impact of integration and the civil rights movement. One of its strongest assets is its feeling of cinema verité . The location footage is both magnificent and convincing, since most of the cast, except for the leads, are locals hired by Corman. When Shatner delivered his white supremacist speech from the courthouse steps, many townspeople, appearing as extras, cheered him on, believing he was the hero of the film. Ironically, the extras recruited by Corman for the klan scenes, it turns out, were actual klan members. When the locals finally tracked down Charles Beaumont’s novel and learned it was not prose-gregation, all cooperation ceased, and the local police harassed Corman and his crew continually as they wrapped up the film.

The flavor and atmosphere of the film remain impressive more than forty years later. The casual nature of the racism, from the manner in which even elderly women refer to blacks as “niggers” to the scenes of the cross-burning, are powerful, indelible images that seem completely authentic. This film can serve as an excellent vehicle for students to grasp both the authentic ambience of the period and the progress made over the past decades. The acting, directing, and writing are exceptional. Interestingly, the screenwriter and novelist Charles Beaumont appears in the role of the high school principal. Shatner reports that this film garnered him his most positive reviews up until his appearance on Star Trek six years later.

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