Greetings, Readers welcome back! This week’s film is a double Unusual Suspect! You may wonder what I mean by a double. Well, we got an actor and a director both outside their comfort zone. Today I present a very dark, serious drama starring William Shatner and directed by Roger Corman!
(Cue record scratch!)
Wait a minute, the Kitsch Kings together and it’s not campy, kitschy, or funny? How do you find this stuff?
Readers you might remember my post about a sci-fi film called This Is Not A Test featuring Timmy the Poodle Martyr (don’t get me started). The film finished, and I calculated oxygen levels to prevent canicide (see post) when I saw William Shatner on TV! Apparently, YouTube has a handy-dandy auto-play feature. The clouds parted for a serendipitous moment, Roger Corman and William Shatner. I hunkered down for a double-header of kitsch cinematic gold (or Bakelite).
That was far from the case. At this point, I want to warn you, my dear reader, this film contains highly culturally sensitive material. In fact, I turned the movie off 15 minutes in, before resuming at a later date. It is not a bad film, just very difficult subject matter. I warned you.
Reader, this film does not mess around, it is crude and unrelenting. If you are in my generation and from a liberal town, then you have absolutely no idea what the civil rights movement was really like. Sure, I read it in the books, watched old newsreels, documentaries. Until I saw this film, my understanding was only academic. A sympathetic academic, but an academic. Everything you know is sugar-coated compared with The Intruder.
With his sleazy charm, Cramer aggressively seduces women, including his neighbor. A married woman, he blocks her door with his arm and forces himself inside the house charming her into making him coffee, and much more despite her “no’s”. Apparently Cramer has an irresistible charm, this is the only thing he has in common with Captain Kirk, but he is creepy and aggressive, not a kitschy cad. His conquests include a teenage girl, later, after the mob beats her father, he threatens her father and forces her to accuse Joey Green an African-American teenager of raping her.
Everywhere Cramer goes, he spouts poison, inciting violence, and creates an unruly mob causing riots and beatings. Later in the film, Cramer returns with a convoy of KKK in full regalia, burning crosses, church bombing and killing a minister, a local reporter is blinded by hillbilly thugs. This movie’s violence escalates at a frightening pace.
Despite Cramer being a thoroughly awful person, Shatner’s performance is magnificent. Here is why. When an actor plays a character, no matter how virulent, he or she may be, the actor’s job is finding justification for the character’s actions. The audience should understand the character’s motivations and perspective.
You can tell Shatner knows this is an awful human being he doesn’t make the audience like him. Other actors would put humanity in the character. Shatner doesn’t. Cramer is a creepy sociopath, a character as ugly as his words.
In the early shots, Shatner (not Cramer) seems uncomfortable with the n-word. Shatner’s natural boyish quality makes the hesitancy work. In Shatner’s performance, the actor does not want you to identify or sympathize with his character. With a character like Cramer, it is a smart choice. By playing the character with absolutely no empathy, the audience hates him. That’s what makes his performance great. Okay, we do get a teeny bit of the famous halting line delivery, but it works.
I am a Shatner advocate, I think people underestimate him because he is also an entertainer. He gives his audience what they want. Sure, he’s campy, but he’s campy because that’s what we want. He clearly is capable of giving us much more, as this performance indicates.
And lest we believe terrible things about an actor who can easily play a racist creep, Cramer also attacked liberals, socialists, and Jewish people. William Shatner is Jewish. Remember, William Shatner wanted Kirk kissing Uhura the writers wanted Spock!
The production was not without hazards, according to Shatner:
The day we arrived, we were briefed by a policeman, who advised us, ‘Now if I were you, I’d take a few minutes and plan my escape route.’ … the town had found out what this movie was about and they were not happy about it. Really not happy. The only integrated group in the whole town was a prison gang and supposedly this gang had been hired to kill us in the motel. ‘We’ve got all this spotted,’ the policeman said, ‘but we can’t hold back the waters’ (Shatner 69). … We believed we were in danger every day. We were prevented from shooting certain scenes in town, Roger received a series of death threats, and the local police and one night, even the state militia had to come and stand guard (74).
Shatner and Corman had many harrowing experiences during the production:
The final sequence of the film took place in a schoolyard, and we had shot in East Prairie, Missouri. The first day or two days of this final sequence went OK, and then the sheriff told me to get out of town. We couldn’t go back, so I shots some swings in a part in Charleston for half of the next day, and the chief of police kicked me out of Charleston, and we ended up shooting at a country schoolyard. It was summer, and we were out in the country where there were no police or anybody to see that we were there, and we finished the sequence. Nobody has ever noticed, but the size of the swings varies slightly from shot to shot because they were in three different areas. Luckily, people were more interested in the scene itself. – Roger Corman (Nasr 140)
Despite winning multiple prizes at film festivals, The MPAA did not grant a production seal of approval.
Fearing the audience response, many theater owners did not show The Intruder. The Intruder is Roger Corman’s only financial failure.
If The Intruder had been successful, I would have probably continued in that vein. (204)
You can watch The Intruder on YouTube or just click play:
Nasr, Constantine. Roger Corman: Interviews. U of Mississippi, 2011. Print.
Shatner, William, and David Fisher. Up Till Now: The Autobiography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008. Print.
Ciao, for now, my darlings!