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To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) v. Intruder in the Dust (1949)


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Tonight as part of the Black Experience in Film, we are being treated to two movies with stories involving jim crow justice.  They are both based on works by two great American authors, and have, on the surface at least, many similarities.  There's a man accused, falsely, of a heinous crime against a white.  There are defense lawyers.  Threats of lynching.  Children have a role in the action.  But there are also profound and powerful differences that lead me to prefer the latter movie, which I will endeavor to show.

I hesitate to question To Kill a Mockingbird, given its revered place in the American consciousness.  Both the book and the movie.  They are no doubt masterpieces, well made, affecting, and with the proper message that racial injustice is bad.  I feel a not inconsiderable amount of the high regard we have is due to Atticus Finch, and Gregory Peck's portrayal of him, appealing to us as a Great Big Father Figure we all want to have.  Not that this is wrong, just that it is valued more as a testament against racism than it otherwise would be without him. Despite its message, it still presents the world from the white point of view, with the whites controlling the action.  In short, it's still all about us, with patronization substituted for racism.  The African-Americans are still presented as passive.  Even though Tom Robinson is portrayed sympathetically, he is still powerless, a victim of the system and circumstances.

While Intruder in the Dust still tells the story from the white point of view, the central African American figure, Lucas Beauchamp, played magnificently by Juano Hernandez, is portrayed as dignified, independent, non-subservient.  He has as powerful an influence on the action as any of the white characters, even more so.  He gets the whites not only to let him off, but get the real criminal.  And this while in a jail cell.   His influence extends beyond the events as they happen in the present, but into the past.  In fact, it's his influence on events and people in the past that saves his life in the present.  I suppose the reason this story is not so beloved by America is due to none of the whites being portrayed in a very good light.  Not to say they are all raging racists, but they are certainly not the same glowing goodness of the positive characters in Mockingbird.  The lawyer, in contrast to Mr. Finch, is self-important, quick to judge, and not often right.  Nor do we have his towering figure as a father.  The closest character we have as a defender of the just and the right is an old Lady.  She may not appeal like Atticus Finch, but she and her knitting hold off a lynch mob, while he obviously would have failed if it weren't for Scout showing up and breaking the mood.

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I have not read, nor seen the movie of Intruder in the Dust. Having just read this comparison to the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, I can’t wait to read the novel and view the 1949 movie, which will be broadcast on Friday at 3:00 am.  Can’t believe I’ve missed it, in all the years that I have been watching TCM.  I’ll comment again once I’ve seen it!

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3 hours ago, slaytonf said:

Just want to bring people's attention to the upcoming airing of Intruder in the Dust (1949).  Thursday 10:45 pm.  Pacific.

Thanks slaytonf. I happened to have reviewed both films within the past year and agree with you that Intruder in the Dust deserves to be better known. I can't think of an earlier film in Hollywood (I'm ready to be corrected there) in which a black actor was allowed the opportunity to play a man who dared to be proud, stubborn, and obstinate in a white southern community. He asked nothing from anybody except to be himself, whether others like it or not. The wonderful Juano Hernandez (who, soon afterward, would have two more impressive turns on screen with Young Man With A Horn and The Breaking Point) delivered an award worthy performance, in my opinion.

Juano_hernandez_in_intruder_in_the_dust.

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I'm a fan of Intruder in the Dust. Juano Hernandez has four good parts in 1949-1950: Intruder in the Dust, Stars in My Crown, Young Man With a Horn, and The Breaking Point. He's wonderful in everything he does. His small role in The Pawnbroker (1965) is heartbreaking.

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1 hour ago, sewhite2000 said:

I found a website that indicates the title was invented by Faulkner and was not some previously existing idiom, though there doesn't appear to be any consensus on its meaning. Possibly it means someone recently buried?

I admired the film but couldn't quite understand the title. I wonder if you have to read the Faulkner novel to find out what it means. Thanks for looking into it, sewhite.

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It refers to the person who violates Vincent Gowrie's grave.  Supposedly it refers to Chick Mallison, who intrudes in the dust (the repository of the mortal remains), although as it turns out, he does not really, as Vincent's body is no longer in the grave.  Crawford Gowrie, is the real violator, removing the body of the brother he murdered from his grave to hide his guilt. 

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38 minutes ago, slaytonf said:

It refers to the person who violates Vincent Gowrie's grave.  Supposedly it refers to Chick Mallison, who intrudes in the dust (the repository of the mortal remains), although as it turns out, he does not really, as Vincent's body is no longer in the grave.  Crawford Gowrie, is the real violator, removing the body of the brother he murdered from his grave to hide his guilt. 

Oh gee, well THANKS for the spoiler alert here, slayton!!!

;)

(...just kiddin'...I've seen the movie)

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Methinks TOM must've been frustrated at trying to fathom all those song titles from Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin  which in many cases had nothing to do with the song at all.  (Think "From A Buick 6" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" for example  ;) )

Sepiatone

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