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Almost Yesterday: "The Intruder" Comes to Southeast Missouri

Southeast Missouri State University
William Shatner in screenshot from "The Intruder"

It seems like Almost Yesterday that Hollywood came to Southeast Missouri. A production company headed by prominent director Roger Corman came to Charleston and East Prairie in 1961 to produce a movie based upon Charles Beaumont’s novel about race relations and school integration in the American South.

Filmed one year prior to the classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, "The Intruder" was a commercial failure. Corman was unable to secure support for the film from Hollywood Studios, thus this socially daring movie was the independent work of Corman who took a second mortgage on his home to produce the movie. Consequently, in order to maintain a low budget, Corman made use of many local residents in the film.

The key role in the movie was played by thirty year old William Shatner, five years before he assumed his role as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek Series.

In this controversial film Shatner plays “The Intruder,” Adam Cramer, who comes into the small southern town of Caxton in order to arouse opposition to the effort to integrate the local high school.  Cramer is a smooth talking, mild mannered, and sophisticated individual who is very successful in rallying opposition to the planned school integration ordered by the U. S. Supreme Court in the 1954 Brown against Topeka decision.

Soon the imaginary town of Caxton was the scene of violence, mob action and death. Only with the efforts of a number of courageous African-Americans and a white newspaper editor was order restored to the community.

Although the movie was an economic failure, it remains a symbolic portrayal of the tension over school integration in twentieth century America – as played in a rural Missouri town.

Frank Nickell is a history professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
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