When I think of William Shatner, as I so often do, I marvel at the range of his characterizations. First there is Kirk, the ultimate Hero of our time (and of all time to come). Then there are the more conflicted protagonists, such as the monk Alexei from the 1958 Brothers Karamazov, or the soldier Marc in the all-Esperantu Language fantasy Incubus. There are characters that combine good and evil in equal measure, like Denny Crane, or the Priceline Negotiator. But never has the Shat Man revelled in pure evil more than in the role of Adam Cramer, the title character of 1962′s overlooked B-movie classic "The Intruder".
Scripted from his novel by Twilight Zone stalwart Charles Beaumont, and directed by the legendary Roger Corman, The Intruder follows "outside agitator" Cramer, ostensibly a representative of the mythical "Patrick Henry Society", who travels to small Southern towns stirring up the passions of the white citizenry against desegregation. Cramer seems to have no deep convictions himself, using his far-right oratory for self-aggrandizement, and to exploit his followers.
The Intruder was true guerilla film-making, Corman taking his crew to a small Missouri town, whose racist townspeople did not realize the movie was anti-racist in theme until late in the production, at which point the film-makers’ lives were threatened and shots were fired at them. The small contingent of Hollywood actors were supplemented by scripter Beaumont himself in the role of a principled school principal, while sc-fi writer pals William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (authors of Logan’s Run) were drafted in to play local red-necks. Mobs of local yahoos were played by themselves.
Shatner is pretty amazing in this, for the most part eschewing his beloved patented Shatnerisms for a very straight-forward riveting turn as a chillingly charismatic hate-mongerer. The enjoyment in watching this full-blooded thoroughly entertaining melodrama is somewhat mediated by the realization that the extras expressing such hatred were the real deal, a disturbingly cinema-verite aspect that reminds us of what much of this country was like less than fifty years ago. This is supposed to have been the only film Roger Corman has ever made that has lost money (we can hope it is recouped by the DVD sales); well worth seeing both for intrinsic merit and as a historical reminder….and a remarkable performance in the lead. You thought you knew Shatner? You don’t know Shatner, not until you’ve seen this film.