Cult Movies: Roger Corman's The Intruder still powerful and thought-provoking

WILLIAM Shatner is a much better actor than he’s usually given credit for. Those who’ve sat through the hammier moments of his on-screen career when you genuinely fear for the scenery as he chows down on it with almighty force, or indeed those who’ve had the misfortune to suffer through the 'unique' musical interpretations on his legendary Transformed Man album may beg to differ, of course, but when he was given material he felt committed to and a director who understood his rather vigorous style of acting, he could Thesp it up with the very best of them. 

The Intruder is a perfect case in point. Directed by Roger Corman and released, poorly and to little contemporary acclaim, in 1962, it’s a remarkable study of bigotry and politics in the American deep south. Hard hitting and unrelenting in its portrayal of white supremacy at a hugely volatile time in US history, it was always going to struggle to find an audience in 1962, but remains a powerful and thought-provoking piece of work that still packs a considerable punch today. 

Shot in stark black and white, Shatner plays Adam Cramer,  a white suited, fast-talking, rabble-rousing northerner who arrives in a small Southern town just as the schools there are about to introduce racial integration into the classroom. The white locals are generally unhappy about welcoming their black neighbours into their schools, but since it’s the law they’re willing to go along with it. Until Cramer, representing a fictional political organisation called the Patrick Henry Society, starts stirring them up to revolt, that is.  

A charismatic and quasi-religious figure, Cramer is all too believable as the agitator who whips up a population into a racist mob and Shatner revels in the role, ranting and raving with a barely contained mania in his eyes throughout. It’s an unforgettable turn from an actor all too often sneered at for his on-screen performances.  

Corman directs coldly and without much in the way of fancy trimmings. This is a grim and all too real scenario, and as the heat rises and the hatred grows, the director lets the drama take centre stage. For a film maker who prided himself on his work always turning a profit, The Intruder was a box office disaster that failed to find an audience on either the established cinema circuit or the drive-in market where Corman’s B movies traditionally played at that time.

It's easy to see why audiences turned away. This is strong meat even today, but the difficult subject matter of deep-rooted racism is faced off boldly throughout. That means the constant use of the 'N word' that some may find unacceptable, even though it’s central to the story, and an often casual attitude to race hatred that is still shocking in 2023. 

A cold, stark and often disturbing study of an America struggling with change, it’s an oddly moving and unforgettable film and one that shows the bold Mr Shatner to be an actor of real quality behind the vocal ticks and well-worn mannerisms. Seek it out and see for yourself.