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Clarence Brown a great director-Intruder in the Dust one of his best


slaytonf
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The equal of any other, Ford, Lean, Eisentein, take your pick. This movie ranks with The Yearling, National Velvet, Anna Christie, and Flesh and the Devil. One of my favorite scenes is one between Lucas and Chick in the jail, with just one of their eyes each visible through the grating. The whole movie displays his superior framing, lighting, and camera work.

 

A great example of a movie shot entirely on location. Good use of local resources for sets, and residents for extras.

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Like you, I'm amazed that this movie doesn't get more play and more notice than it does. In another thread I mentioned Ralph Ellison's comment that Intruder In The Dust was the only "race" movie of its time that wouldn't have been hooted at by an all-black audience. Thank God that my DVD recorder was working, because I plan on showing it to everyone I know. Juano Hernandez's performance was beyond mere superlatives, and I can only imagine what the reaction must have been in Oxford, Mississippi when the movie made its debut there.

 

Here's the full 1949 review from The New York Times , which instantly recognized its greatness:

 

 

Out of the mordant material of William Faulkner's "Intruder in the Dust," which told a savage story of an averted lynching in a sleepy Southern town, Producer-Director Clarence Brown has made a brilliant stirring film. Under the title of the novel, it opened at the Mayfair yesterday. And without one moment's hesitation, this corner, still shaking, proclaims that it is probably this year's pre-eminent picture and one of the great cinema dramas of our times.

 

 

For here, at last, is a picture that slashes right down to the core of the complex of racial resentments and social divisions in the South—which cosmically mocks the hollow pretense of "white supremacy"—and does it in terms of visual action and realistic drama at its best. As a matter of fact, the deeper meanings might be utterly missed by some who should still find this film a creeping "thriller" that will turn them, temporarily, to stone.

 

 

And this is because the story Ben Maddow has expertly derived from Mr. Faulkner's novel and which Mr. Brown has put upon the screen is as solemn and spooky a mystery as you'll ever want to see, powerfully pieced together out of incidents of the most electric sort. On the surface, it is a story of a desperate and courageous attempt to save an innocent Negro from lynching at the hands of a mob—a story of how three people, an old lady and two frightened boys, open a grave at midnight and find the evidence that helps to save the man. And it is also, strictly on the surface, a story of shrewd detective work by a young Southern lawyer and a Sheriff in tracing a callous murderer.

 

 

But, essentially, this is a drama of the merciless wrench and strain of attitudes and emotions in a handful of people in a Southern town who react to the terrible dilemma that the crisis of the Negro presents. It is a drama of the torturing tensions within a 16-year-old white boy who hates, yet admires, the doughty Negro whose innocent life is at stake. It is a drama of fateful decisions by a young lawyer in the town, a drama of the quiet determination of an old lady who believes in doing "right." And particularly, it is the drama of a proud, noble, arrogant Negro man who would rather be lynched in fiery torture than surrender his stolid dignity.

 

 

If these sound like large illuminations to be accomplished upon the screen in the course of a ninety-minute picture that is also action-crammed, you may find the attesting explanation in Mr. Brown's brilliant techniques. Taking his cast and his cameras down to Oxford, Miss., itself—the town frankly acknowledged as the "Jefferson" of Mr. Faulkner's book—he has photographed most of his picture right there in that genuine locale with a sharpness of realistic detail that has staggering fidelity. He has placed his principal characters in stunning relation to crowds, and he has searched their expressive faces in striking close-ups for key effects. Most conspicuously, the director has shunned "mood music" throughout his films. The sounds, which are full of minor drama, are intrinsic to the action and the place.

 

 

The effect in such eerie moments as the opening of the grave or the passage of whispered conversation between the boy and the Negro in the jail cannot be expressed in mere language. There is a virtue in the realism of sound to which this remarkable picture will stand as a monument. And the shocking explosion of tinny music from loudspeakers in the crowded square when the mob is gathering for the lynching is as vivid as the vulgar scene itself.

 

 

With his cast, Mr. Brown has also accomplished some real creative art, especially with Juano Hernandez, who plays the condemned Negro. The stanch and magnificent integrity that Mr. Hernandez displays in his carriage, his manner and expression, with never a flinch in his great self-command, is the bulwark of all the deep compassion and ironic comment in this film.

 

 

Excellent, too, are David Brian as the lawyer who involves him-self and Claude Jarman Jr. as the youngster who first inspires a defense of the innocent man. Likewise, Elizabeth Patterson is a moving symbol of Southern delicacy and strength as the elderly, insignificant lady who coolly defies a lynch mob. Charles Kemper is porcine and brutal as the stubborn leader of the mob, Porter Hall is stark as his old father and Will Geer plays the sheriff manfully.

 

 

The crowds and flavor of this picture are as Southern as side-meat and greens. Mr. Brown has truly created for M-G-M a triumphantly honest, adult film.

 

 

I first saw this magnificent film at the AFI nearly 40 years ago and I've been waiting ever since to see it again. It was well worth the wait.

 

 

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I agree with you that Clarence Brown is in the top tier of directors. I'm sorry that I missed Intruder in the Dust. Ah, Wilderness! is my particular favorite of Brown's films. I think his use of the two shot in that film enhances the feeling and message of O'Neill's great romantic story and is one of the greatest film adaptations of a play.

 

In Andrew Sarris famous groupings of directors, Clarence Brown falls into the "Subjects for Further Research" category. I think Brown should be moved to the Pantheon group.

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