The Intruder (1962)
THE INTRUDER was made for a mere $80,000, creating one of the most brutal, honest, and unflinching examinations of American racism in cinema history. I was truly astonished by the writing in this, not just its blatant callousness and inhumanity, but narratively speaking, this is nothing short of perfect. Shatner as Cramer, getting off the bus and looking around the town with the thought of creating chaos is probably more common than we'd like to think. There are some people in this world who are agents of evil, and can hide under a facade that is hard to recognize. If there was ever a film from years past that needs to be seen in today's sociological climate, this is the one.
Corman, who had mortgaged his house to partially bankroll the project, was deeply upset. While no studio, even AIP, would touch the project, Corman had still believed intensely in the message of the film, that racism was a cancer on American society that had to be excised at all costs. Things soon spiral out of hand, with a ritualistic cross burning attended by members of the Ku Klux Klan, a mass meeting in which Cramer incites a mob to lynch an innocent young African-American man falsely accused of rape, and a series of beatings by Cramer’s new-found supporters directed against all who would oppose him. Hearing that elderly hotel clerk casually tossing in the “n” word is still jarring. Realizing what's about to go down between a young woman and the gentleman as they spend some time in the basement, is anxiety-inducing. We are privy to the source of what makes people turn against others, out of fear and a complete lack of empathy for the human race. Sadly, I don't find the ending to be cathartic. Cramer will probably start all over again in another small town, bringing hatred and disaster wherever he goes like a tornado on a path that can never be stopped. The film at times might be a bit rough around the edges, but its message has never been more relevant (as sad as this may be).
One of the New York papers called the film a major credit to the entire American motion picture industry and I would completely concur. It won a number of film-festival awards, but it was the first and only film that Corman made that lost money, which taught him that the American public simply didn’t want to see that particular kind of film. They wanted genre pics, exploitation and escapism. I really wish that this had become more than a critical success, but I wondered if this was a case of "Too soon" for the audience back then. Corman deserves as much credit for this as his contributions as a B-level director and producer, for how honest and audacious he chose to approach such difficult material. It's also proof that things haven't changed all that much, but a lot of folks are more quiet about their beliefs.
As a kid, I still never understood why we had to "lock our doors" in a particular neighborhood when nobody seemed to approach the car or appeared to be threatening. They were just existing, just like us. To this day, stories about closed-minded automatons really incite me with anger, but I know not to act on anger since it's simply just an extension of fear. I fear that racism will continue to be a part of the collective consciousness, and that fear stems simply by turning on the news. Sadly, there are many intruders like Cramer walking the streets, some of them wearing a badge. Corman knew that then, and it has yet to cease being a problem today. A-