Saturday, 6 October 2007
THE INTRUDER & EAT MY DUST
The Intruder (1962) dir. Roger Corman
Starring: William Shatner
Eat My Dust (1975) dir. Charles B. Griffith
Starring: Ron Howard
Guest review by Greg Klymkiw
Two titles released by Buena Vista from the Roger Corman canon in recent weeks, “The Intruder” and “Eat My Dust”, couldn’t be more different from each other. They do, however, share several key ingredients – extremely low budgets, some first-rate writing, pure filmmaking ingenuity, break-neck pace and supreme entertainment value. I can’t imagine there’s anyone who cares about movies that doesn’t know who Roger Corman is – he’s one of the true originals of American cinema; an icon, a maverick, a God. No, let me re-phrase that. Roger Corman is not “a” God - he is God. As a director, producer and distributor, Corman was notoriously thrifty, endowed with impeccable taste in both trash and art, blessed with a nose for talent and, as the title of his autobiography proclaimed, he made well over one hundred films and “never lost a dime”.
“The Intruder”, directed and produced by Corman and first released in 1961, was perhaps – until very recently – the exception to the rule. It was the one film that for years dogged and haunted Corman as his one and only money-loser – a film he pretty much self-financed by taking a second mortgage out on his home.
Based on the Charles Beaumont novel, with a screenplay by the original author, “The Intruder” is about a racist outside agitator who, on the eve of racial integration in the schools, comes to a quiet small-town in the deep South to pit the white (and white-trash) ruling class against their African American neighbours. Using real locations and mixing real people from those actual locations as actors in supporting roles (as well as shooting on the site of recent and actual civil unrest) Corman’s film is powerful and incendiary. It might even be the best motion picture ever made that deals specifically with the civil rights movement in the United States.
Charles Beaumont’s screenplay is full of texture and nuance, but that should come as no surprise since he was one of the great screenwriters of this period, delivering numerous classic teleplays for Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” TV series in addition to the numerous Poe adaptations that Corman later produced and/or directed. He also acts in the picture as the town’s liberal newspaper editor who clashes with the racist agitator.
In the title role, Corman cast a very young and utterly brilliant William Shatner who both charms and creeps us out as the picture progresses. In one of the picture’s more memorable sequences, Shatner delivers a speech of utter hatred to a group of rednecks (played by the real thing). Shatner’s performance here is still one of the most frightening things ever committed to celluloid, but is made even more extraordinary by the way in which Corman shoots the sequence – eerily recalling Leni Riefenstahl’s coverage of Hitler’s speechifying in “Triumph of the Will”.
Of the fifty or so pictures Corman actually directed, this was probably the only obvious non-genre picture. It was certainly a critical success and an award winner on the film festival circuits, but its failure at the box office put a definite stop to Corman’s aspiration to make similar pictures and the rest of his career was devoted to horror pictures, motorcycle epics and even head-trip psychedelia. Not that this was a bad thing, mind you, because his genre pictures were almost always brilliantly made and offered entertainment value of the highest order to millions upon millions of moviegoers the world over.
“Eat My Dust” from 1976 is a perfect example of one of those entertaining genre pieces. Corman produced this slam-bang car chase picture which holds the (for some, dubious) distinction of launching the eventual directorial career of Ron Howard. Fresh from a long TV career as an actor on both “The Andy Griffith Show” and the intolerable “Happy Days”, Howard agreed to act in this picture in exchange for an eventual shot at directing his first feature the following year for Corman.
The writer and director of “Eat My Dust” was the late Charles B. Griffith - a legend within the Corman stable who sadly passed away a week ago. He wrote numerous screenplays including the legendary and original “Little Shop of Horrors”, “Bucket of Blood”, “The Wild Angels” and the classic Paul Bartel car chase satire, “Death Race 2000” (in which Griffith also directed most of the jaw-dropping 2nd unit action scenes). And he sure didn’t drop the ball with “Eat My Dust” – a kick-ass drive-inn car chase picture with outlandish chases and stunts blended with plenty of opportunities for hot babes, hot cars and snappy, wacky, delightfully cheesy dialogue. Ron Howard plays the All-American stock car driver who, to impress hot bottle blonde Christopher Norris (yup, she’s a babe, in spite of her first name), steals a super hot-rod and wreaks considerable havoc on the backroads of small town America. The picture almost never lets up and is, essentially, one big extended chase scene. It has everything going for it that Howard’s subsequent directorial debut (also a car chase picture – the forgettable “Grand Theft Auto”) did not have – great dialogue and first-rate, stylish direction.
The good news about both of these recent DVD releases is that they’re both available and both are reasonably priced. The bad news is that they’re pretty woeful releases as far as DVD packages go. “Eat My Dust” is, by default, the better deal because the print source seems to be decent and the extras - the original trailer and a short “making of” segment - while hardly overwhelming, are kind of fun – especially the latter which features brilliant editor Tina Hirsch, the cinematographer and leading babe Christopher Norris (long-in-tooth now, but still perky). Sadly, “Eat My Dust” is presented full frame, though I don’t think it’s been panned and scanned which, oddly enough, is too bad because the open matte just doesn’t seem to do the visuals justice.
The Buena Vista DVD release of “The Intruder” is a sad story. Not only is it from poor print elements, it is presented in a full screen open matte format. The only extra is a very short featurette with Corman and Shatner interviewed separately. Compared with the earlier New Concorde DVD release of this film, the 40th anniversary edition that came out in 2001, this new “special edition” from Buena Vista is not so special. While the New Concorde version came from the same flawed originals, it was at least in anamorphically enhanced widescreen rather than full frame. The New Concorde extras were simple, but solid. The featurette on the earlier DVD release included 30 minutes of Shatner and Corman in conversation with each other, a fun selection of other Corman trailers, a few well-written biographies and an excellent timeline of the entire civil rights movement. Buena Vista’s release is well priced and if you have not seen “The Intruder”, you could do worse than buy or rent it, but frankly, you’re probably better off trying to find the 2001 New Concorde 40th anniversary DVD release.
Ultimately, if these two DVD releases are indicative of the treatment Corman’s work is getting on the Buena Vista label, I’d have to proclaim that Mr. Corman deserves something better. Sure, they’re all drive-inn and grindhouse fare, but they’re entertainment of the highest order.
Buy them here:
The Intruder (Special Edition)
Eat My Dust (Supercharged Edition)