I really want to view this film ‘Intruder in the Dust’ the 1949 drama film produced and directed by Clarence Brown and starring David Brian and Claude Jarman, Jr. The film is based on the novel Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner.
THIS FILM IS UNAVAILABLE ON HOME VIDEO OR DVD so if anyone has a copy please let me know! x x x info at katycarr dot com
David Brian … John Gavin Stevens
Claude Jarman Jr. … Chick Mallison
Juano Hernandez … Lucas Beauchamp
Porter Hall … Nub Gowrie
Elizabeth Patterson … Miss Eunice Habersham
Charles Kemper … Crawford Gowrie
Will Geer … Sheriff Hampton
David Clarke … Vinson Gowrie
Elzie Emanuel … Aleck
Lela Bliss … Mrs. Mallison
Harry Hayden … Mr. Mallison
Harry Antrim … Mr. Tubbs
It’s remarkable that a film like Intruder in the Dust (1949) could have been made by a major Hollywood studio of that era. Based on the 1948 novel by William Faulkner, it’s the story of a dignified black man, Lucas Beauchamp (Juano Hernandez), in the South who refuses to be deferential to the community’s whites. When he is falsely accused of murdering a white man, he is too proud to make any attempt to prove his innocence when he knows he won’t be believed. Chick Mallison (Claude Jarman, Jr.), a white teenager whom Lucas once helped, sets out to prove that Lucas is not the murderer, with the help of his lawyer uncle (David Brian) and a feisty old woman (Elizabeth Patterson).
The driving force behind Intruder in the Dust was Clarence Brown, who had been one of MGM’s top directors since the mid-1920s. In the 1930s, he had become acquainted with Faulkner, who worked briefly as a screenwriter at MGM. Although born in Massachusetts, Brown had grown up in Tennessee, and considered himself a Southerner. As a teenager, he had witnessed the bloody 1906 race riots in Atlanta, and had never forgotten them. Brown was an admirer of Faulkner’s books, and when he read Intruder in the Dust before it was published, it resonated for him. He asked MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer to buy it. Mayer was convinced it would be a failure and refused. But when the liberal producer Dore Schary, who had made several “message” pictures, took over as head of production at MGM in 1948, he persuaded Mayer to approve the project. MGM bought the rights for $50,000, to the delight of the perennially cash-strapped Faulkner.
To play Chick, Brown chose Claude Jarman, Jr., whom he had discovered and cast in The Yearling (1946) when Jarman was a 12 year-old Nashville schoolboy. Following the success of that film, Jarman moved to Hollywood and attended the MGM studio school. His performance in Intruder in the Dust was one of his best, and one of his personal favorites.
Intruder in the Dust was also a milestone in the film career of Juano Hernandez. A black man of Puerto Rican and Brazilian parentage, he had been a boxer, a vaudevillian, a radio scriptwriter, and a radio and stage actor in New York. His first film role was as a drug lord in The Girl from Chicago (1932), directed by black independent producer Oscar Micheaux. After several small parts in Micheaux films, Intruder in the Dust was Hernandez’s first film for a major Hollywood studio, and the beginning of a distinguished mainstream film career. The film earned him a Golden Globe nomination as “Most Promising Newcomer” in 1950.
MGM agreed to Brown’s request to shoot much of Intruder in the Dust on location in Faulkner’s home town of Oxford, Mississippi, provided that lodging could be found for a company of 100 people. The University of Mississippi agreed to house and feed the white cast and crew, but what about the black actors? The Chamber of Commerce said lodgings would be provided “in the homes of Oxford’s colored leaders.” Juano Hernandez would stay at the home of a prominent black undertaker.
Some members of the community objected to the story, and Faulkner helped to smooth things over with them. He also helped find locations, and discussed the script with Brown, but because he was under contract to Warner Bros., he could not contribute to it. However, according to Faulkner’s biographer Joseph Blotner, he approved most of the scenes, made suggestions for changes to others, and revised the last scene “considerably in an effort to make it less sentimental.” Faulkner even coached Hernandez in the local dialect, feeling that Hernandez’s “clear and precise enunciation made him sound like a Shakespearean” rather than a Mississippi black man. (from Faulkner: A Biography by Joseph Blotner)
Oxford enthusiastically embraced the film company. Many of the townsfolk appeared as extras in Intruder in the Dust, and even those who didn’t turned out at the Lyric Theatre every night to join the film crew watching dailies. The film had its world premiere at the Lyric in October of 1949, with Jarman riding one of Faulkner’s own horses in a parade. Although Faulkner hated the hoopla surrounding the premiere, and attended only grudgingly, he liked the final film. “I don’t know much about movies, but I thought it was one of the best I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Mr. Brown knows his medium, and he’s made a fine picture. I wish I had made it.” And proving that he had the observational abilities to make a fine movie critic, Faulkner added, “I like the way Mr. Brown used bird calls and saddle squeaks and footsteps in place of a lot of loud music telling you what emotion you should be experiencing.”
As Mayer had predicted, Intruder in the Dust was a box-office failure. Although the film was a critical success, 1949 audiences were not ready for a nuanced portrayal of a complex and unapologetic black man. Dore Schary writes in his autobiography, “I predicted it would be viewed in years to come as one of our best. We were both proven right.”
In his essay about the “problem pictures” of 1949, novelist Richard Wright wrote, “Intruder in the Dust is the only film that could be shown in Harlem without arousing unintended laughter. For it is the only one …in which Negroes can make complete identification with their screen image. Interestingly, the factors that make this identification possible lie in its depiction not of racial but of human quality.”
Often considered the best of the Problem Pictures of 1949.
Based on William Faulkner’s novel and actually filmed in Oxford, Mississippi (using residents of the town in crowd scenes and in some minor roles), this movie has a non-studio, realistic look and tone (similiar to and no doubt influenced by the Italian neo-realists of this post-War period). And the acting is without gloss or glamor; it’s a direct and immediate, rather naturalistic (although with the right dramatic flourishes) style new to American studio films.
But the story itself is what still engrosses and affects viewers. A black man, Lucas Beauchamp (Juano Hernandez), having been accused of killing a white southern neighbor, is imprisoned. The whites of the town are soon ready to lynch him, not so much, we soon learn, because they believe he’s committed the crime but because he is a black man who has refused to play the part of the town nigger. Lucas knows who he is, has faith and confidence in his own worth, bows to no man, and carries himself with the greatest of dignity, so much so that he is indeed superior. In fact, he is so strong that he doesn’t believe he has to prove anything to anybody, not even his innocence. He turns, however, to a young white boy, Chick. Sometime earlier Lucas had rescued Chick from drowning. Afterwards he had taken the child home with him so that the boy’s clothes might dry. When Chick had then offered the black man money, Lucas had promptly rejected it. His had been an act of hospitality – and fundamental humanity – which cannot be paid for. But because of the South’s rigid racial/social codes, Chick doesn’t want to “owe” a black man for anything, and his later ambivalence – his hostility and his fascination with Lucas – is the same of that of many of the white townspeople, who feel, “We got to make him a nigger first. He’s got to admit he’s a nigger. Then maybe we will accept him as he seems to intend to be accepted.” Thus begrudingly feeling he still must somehow repay the nigger for the debt, Chick sets out to find the real murderer.
Intruder in the Dust is a complex film, presented often as a murder mystery. And it succeeds on many levels,as a piece of entertainment and as an artistic statement. “If this movie had been produced in Europe,” Pauline Kael wrote, “it would probably be widely acclaimed among American students of the film as a subtle, sensitive, neo-realist work.”
Writing of the problem pictures in his essay “The Shadow and the Act,” Ralph Ellison said that “the temptation toward self-congratulation which comes from seeing these films and sharing in their emotional release is apt to blind us to the true nature of what is unfolding – or failing to unfold – before our eyes. As an antidote to the sentimentality of these films, I suggest that they be seen in predominantly Negro audiences. For here, when the action goes phony, one will hear derisive laughter, not sobs…Intruder in the Dust is the only film that could be shown in Harlem without arousing unintended laughter. For it is the only one of the four [major black films released in 1949] in which Negroes can make complete identification with their screen image. Interestingly, the factors that make this identification possible lie in its depiction not of racial but of human quality.”
Intruder in the Dust is not without flaws. The self-congratulatory tone Ellison speaks of its most apparent (as is the one “false note” of the film Pauline Kael has spoken of) at the conclusion when Chick’s uncle, a white lawyer, tells the boy, “It will be all right as long as some of us are willing to fight – even one of us,” adding, “Lucas wasn’t in trouble – we were.” That lame line’s a bit hard to take.
Finally, though, one leaves Intruder in the Dust having seen something else quite startling, and new to American movies: it presents us with Hollywood’s first black separatist movie hero. As Juano Hernandez plays Lucas, he is a truly towering figure: independent, proud, testy, outspoken, resilient, often impossible, even downright insufferable. It is an impressive performance, one of the strongest in the history of blacks in American films. Hernandez won two European awards for his work. But in the United States, his performance, while appreciated by many critics, generally went unnoticed and was forgotten soon afterward. The same was true of this vastly underrated film.
1951 Won UN Award USA.
1951 Nominated BAFTA Film Award Best Film from any Source USA.
Golden Globes, USA
1950 Nominated Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor David Brian
1950 Nominated Golden Globe Most Promising Newcomer – Male Juano Hernandez
Writers Guild of America, USA
1950 Nominated WGA Award (Screen) Best Written American Drama Ben Maddow
1950 Nominated The Robert Meltzer Award (Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with Problems of the American Scene) Ben Maddow