DVD review: 'Intruder in the Dust'
In 1949, director Clarence Brown (“The Yearling”) and screenwriter Ben Maddow (“The Asphalt Jungle”) brought to the screen an adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel “Intruder in
Set in a Mississippi town of that present day, this film with its superbly atmospheric black and white cinematography (courtesy Robert Surtees) centers on a proud black man (Juano Hernandez in a powerful yet low-key performance) accused of murdering a white man, a white boy (Claude Jarman Jr., Brown’s young star from “The Yearling”) who takes up his cause, and the boy’s lawyer uncle (a pompous, pipe-puffing David Brian), who agrees to defend the black man even though he believes his client is guilty.
The film is unflinching in its portrayal of a white Southern culture profoundly poisoned by intense and open racial prejudice and hatred, and the dialogue is heavily peppered with racial epithets that had to have been shocking to a majority of the mainstream moviegoing audience of the period. It’s a good bet this film didn’t play well below the Mason-Dixon Line, if indeed it opened anywhere at all in the South.
The cast is rounded out by lovable character actor Elizabeth Patterson as the courageous grandmotherly white woman who is the boy’s only ally in the struggle to find proof of the black suspect’s innocence, and Porter Hall is effectively loathsome as the head cracker bent on rousing a lynch mob.
Well-crafted and still gripping and relevant, “Intruder in the Dust” is another rare, heretofore hard-to-find cinematic gem manufactured on demand exclusively by the Warner Bros. Archive Collection at warnerarchive.com.
— Gene Triplett
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