Sunday, November 03, 2013

William Shatner's greatest role

OK, wait just a minute.

Before you think I've lost my mind and forgotten about Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, let me quickly say that the headline should read William Shatner's greatest film role.

I just wrote that to get your attention.

But so should "The Intruder." Released in 1962, the Roger Corman-directed film is a raw, rough look at school integration. The screenplay is written by Charles Beaumont and taken from his novel of the same name.

Who knew, but my friend Shane Rhyne says the story is based on an incident at Clinton High School in Anderson County, TN. Sure enough, one of the characters makes reference to "Farragut." The town will look familiar to East Tennesseans, even though the movie was filmed in Missouri. Someone did their homework.

Shatner plays Adam Cramer, a cunningly charming John Bircher type rabble-rouser. He shows up in a sleepy Southern town to whip its white residents into a frenzy against school integration.

Standing in his way are a brave African American family, the school principal (played by Beaumont) and a newspaper editor (Frank Maxwell) who decides to buck his town and his own wife.

It's a tough picture to watch, unblinking, unsentimental, much more powerful, frankly, than "To Kill A Mockingbird."

You could almost call it an exploitation film, but it's a powerful one. In terms of pure performance, this is Shatner's best film. It's also Corman's best, most ambitious effort to date.

Why it fell through the cracks is a bit of a mystery. "Mockingbird" is super, sweeter, a big budget film based on Harper Lee's best-selling novel. Maybe that's part of it.

But if "The Last Picture Show" is the ugly underside of "American Graffiti," "The Intruder" is such for "Mockingbird."

It's a shame that the film has fallen through the cracks. Its message, hard to watch at times, is sadly still relevant today.

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