Monday, December 17, 2007

The Intruder (1962)

In 1962, b-movie mogul and directorial impresario Roger Corman made a black and white “problem film” about, well... black and white. It is notable for two reasons: it tackled the tricky subject of a small town's reluctant school integration, and it starred one William Shatner.

Yes. That William Shatner.

The “intruder” of the title is double—the “intrusion” of the African American into white society (or at least high school) and the devilish Northerner who comes to rile the townsfolk over what would otherwise be a somewhat uncomfortable non-issue, like a racist Harold Hill. (Interestingly, the film version of The Music Man was released the same year, but it's amazing how blunt and “modern” this one is in comparison.) Shatner arrives with no other apparent motive than to stir additional discord. He is eventually thwarted, not by man's innate goodness but by the unpredictable nature of the mob; the would-be orchestrator becomes the naïve bystander as things hurtle out of control.

But let's cut to the chase, shall we? The only reason you're still reading this—the only reason I watched the movie, which is decent but unremarkable—is to see how Shatner fared, pre-Kirk. Well friends, let me tell you--

He is amazing.

Shatner's craft is finely honed even at this early stage of the game, and his vocal delivery is just fantastic. There are nuances here that denote careful thought and sharp instinct. He's riveting. And he's not Kirk, either; Shatner's an actor, and between this and Kirk it should be obvious that he didn't start playing “himself” until he was forced to by virtue of the public not allowing him to disappear into anyone else. Early Shatner, I'd say up until season 3 of Star Trek, is a marvel and I think he could have been huge as a “serious” actor. The oft-parodied pauses and grimaces aren't absent in his early work, but they're subtle and well-placed. They have weight and meaning. And he's got an animal magnetism which works equally well as the immoral seducer and the wily captain. He's built like an all-American cornfed boy but there's a crafty, almost feminine charm which maybe has to do with him being Canadian. I'm not sure.

I'm on the edge of fangirling here, if I haven't jumped over it already. But I'm not sure I care, after that performance. I am sold. And if you have any curiosity about what “might have been,” if you've ever mocked Shatner, go get this movie. I dare you to laugh.

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