Roger Corman, the famous American independent low-budget filmmaker, producer and distributor, turns 90 today.
He’s single handedly responsible for lauching the careers of directors, writers and actors such as Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha), Peter Bogdanovich (Targets), Francis Ford Coppola (Dementia 13), Joe Dante (Piranha), James Cameron (Piranha part two: The Spawning, still the best movie ever about flying piranha’s), Jack Nicholson (a.o. The Shooting, Ride in the Whirlwind), Jonathan Demme (Caged Heat, Crazy Mama), John Sayles (scripted a.o. The Lady in Red, Battle Beyond the Stars) to name but a few.
On the one hand he produced and distributed exploitation and sexploitation movies and on the other hand he introduced the films of Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman to an American audience.
Of the 50 plus movies he’s directed himself, The Intruder (1962) is the best of them all and is somewhat of a stand alone in the man’s oeuvre. It’s a serious film dealing with the first introduction of racial integration in schools set a fictitious southern town called Caxton. In 1954 the US Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.
The film was based on the novel of the same name by Charles Beaumont who adapted it into a screenplay himself, he also has a small part in the film. He’d also written the script for Corman’s The Premature Burial (1962) and went on to write the adaptation of Corman’s version of E.A. Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and died prematurely in 1967 at the age of 38.
The film follows the attempts of Adam Cramer (excellently portrayed by William Shatner, indeed the future Captain Kirk of the Star Trek Enterprise, in what must be his first lead role in a motion picture) to incite the white townspeople to racial violence against the black population. He basically wants to make the segregated American white schools white again.
The film was shot -not without risk- on location in o.a. southeast Missouri using the local population as extra’s which lends an incredible sense of realism to the film. The film received a limited released and was the first movie Corman had ever been involved in that lost money. Later the same year a big studio picture To Kill a Mockingbird which also touched upon similar civil rights issues -be it less direct than The Intruder- was released to great succes. The reputation of The Intruder has been growing in recent years and has led to several re-issues and DVD releases which has now, over 40 years later, resulted in the film turning in a profit.
Corman stated: “I really believed in it and was disappointed in its commercial reception. But it changed the way I made films. I felt the reason it had failed commercially was that it was too much of a message from me and not entertaining enough. From then on, I made films primarily for the audience’s entertainment. Any personal statement or scene that was important to me would be a beneath-the-surface subtext.”
Even at the age of 90 Corman is still producing movies at a steady rate, his most recent production Death Race 2050, a sequel to Corman’s producuction of Paul Bartel’s cult classic Death Race 2000 (1975), is currently in post production. I’m sure it’ll be entertaining and will undoubtedly have a subtextual social commentary.