Neither Roger Corman nor William Shatner is known for their delicacy. Corman, whose latest film Sharktopus premiered on the SyFy channel in 2010, is famous for his roaring good-time cheapies like Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Death Race 2000 (1975), Rock n’ Roll High School (1979) and Children of the Corn (1983) among more than fifty others. Corman has produced somewhere in the neighborhood of an astonishing three-hundred and eighty-five films. Shatner, of course, is famous (perhaps unfairly) for being a less than subtle actor.
And yet these two powerhouse forces– Corman as an audaciously independent minded director and Shatner as a devilishly mercurial young star– met in the perfectly understated, mature film The Intruder (1962). Shatner is the titular intruder, a fast-talking Northerner entering into a Southern town on the brink of integration. He uses both his jovial wiles and disarming good-looks to awaken the town’s sleeping racism and stir it to the point of fervor, all the while coming to realize his hold on the town and himself may be more tentative than he thought.
Shatner gets a bad rep sometimes, primarily from people who have never actually seen the guy act. His performance in The Intruder is all at once seductive and despicable, both pathetic and sympathetic. His monologues are predictably rousing and chilling, yet there are other moments when he simply saunters into a restaurant and steals the scene. This is not the performance of a ham, but a subtle portrait of fear and desperation eating a man alive.
The Intruder, long unavailable, is currently streaming on Netflix. Despised in its own time for being too serious, Corman abandoned the drama for his signature B-fare. It’s all excellent stuff, but after you see The Intruder, you may wish it had been received a little kinder. There’s no telling what other astute dramas Corman could have directed.
As a side note, for anyone interested in Roger Corman and his astonishing career, the recent documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, which debuted at Sundance this year, is an excellent introduction, and nearly as fun as Corman’s films themselves.
By Britta R. Moline 8/13/2011