Roger Corman's only real commercial flop, The Intruder is, oddly enough, one of his better movies. Written by Charles Beaumont (of The Twilight Zone fame) based on his own novel of the same name, Corman and his brother Gene produced this film outside of the studio system completely independently. Most of Corman's work up to this point had been for American International Pictures but they wanted nothing to do with the film given the state of race relations in the United States at the time that it was made.
A thirty-year-old William Shatner plays Adam Cramer, a man who works for the Patrick Henry Society out of Washington D.C. who busses in to a small southern town of Caxton where he starts schmoozing and meeting the townsfolk. His clean-cut appearance and friendly tales of his time as a social worker win him popularity quite quickly. The real reason he's arrived, however, is to rally the townsfolk against the desegregation of the schools in the area. Although it's now the law, Cramer is adamant that desegregation is wrong and he's going to do whatever he can to convince the townsfolk to side with him on the sensitive issue.
As Cramer's ideas begin to spread out amongst the townsfolk, most of the white people in town begin to side with him. By the time he manages to deliver a rousing (and very Hitler-esque) speech outside the town hall, he's got almost every white citizen on his team. He convinces the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan to go burn crosses on the black side of town but when a strange explosion winds up killing a preacher, Cramer winds up in jail. Many of the racists who followed him want him set free and eventually someone puts up his bail. While all of this is going on, the black kids in the area can't even get to school safely. The newspaper (Frank Maxwell) man in town does his part to help and gets beaten severely because of it. Things take an even crazier turn for the worse when a young black man is accused of raping a white girl. Thanks to Cramer's pot-stirring, the town is about to explode...
A fast-paced and frightening work of tension and suspense, The Intruder moves along quickly and hits like a sledgehammer. It makes no apologies for the racist white folk who make up the vast majority of Caxton nor does it give Cramer any redeeming qualities in any attempt to humanize him or give sympathy to his cause. The white majority in the film is flat out evil simply because they are and because they believe segregation to be completely appropriate. Say what you will about Shatner's tendency to chew the scenery, here he is fantastic. He makes Cramer as completely despicable as the story needs but at the same time there's no denying his snake like charm. He works his magic on the townsfolk, even wooing a married woman along the way, completely manipulating them in order to further his own twisted political agenda. Interesting supporting performances from recognizable actors like Frank Maxwell and Leo Gordon add some depth to the cast with locals from the town where the film was shot making up the bulk of the cast.
Corman's direction is solid throughout. The film's black and white cinematography lends plenty of shadowy and almost noir-ish atmosphere to the movie that really fits nicely alongside the foreboding contents of the plot. The ending doesn't have quite the bunch that the build up does but it's handled well and it brings a decent resolution to the film, which makes a point of reminding us that racism is a problem that will probably never really ever go away.
The New Concorde release of The Intruder was letterboxed at 1.85.1 whereas this new presentation shows the film in 1.33.1 fullframe, in a transfer that looks to be open matte if the open space at the top and the bottom of the picture is anything to go by. Print damage is consistent throughout and there are scratches a plenty as well as some moderate grain in a few spots. That said, contrast looks good, and detail isn't bad at all. It doesn't look like a whole lot of effort was put into this transfer, unfortunately, but at least what we have is watchable even if it really should have been better.
The sound on the disc is presented in Dolby Digital Mono format, in its original English language with optional English closed captioning provided but no other alternate language dubbed tracks or subtitles included. Quality of the track isn't perfect but it's not bad. The odd bit of hiss is noticeable if you listen for it but aside from that, the dialogue is always easy to follow and the levels are properly balanced.
Aside from trailers for other, unrelated Buena Vista DVD releases, the only real extra is an nine minute featurette that contains some interesting interviews with Roger Corman and William Shatner. Shot separately, the two talk about the time they spent on the picture and they tell a few interesting stories relating to the controversy surrounding the location shooting. It's fairly fascinating stuff, and sadly, it makes the absence of a commentary track all the more disheartening. Menus and chapter stops are also included.
The presentation isn't perfect but the movie holds up surprisingly well as a through provoking and intelligent thriller that was a little ahead of its time in terms of what it was dealing with and how it dealt with it. Shatner's solid in the lead and Corman's direction is tense. A commentary would have been a big plus, but even without that included The Intruder comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.