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Rural Mississippi in the 1940s: Lucas Beauchamp, a local black man with a reputation of not kowtowing to whites, is found standing over the body of a dead white man, holding a pistol that has recently been fired. Quickly arrested for murder and jailed, Beauchamp insists he's innocent and asks the town's most prominent lawyer, Gavin Stevens, to defend him, but Stevens refuses. When a local boy whom Beauchamp has helped in the past and who believes him to be innocent hears talk of a mob taking Beauchamp out of jail and lynching him, he pleads with Stevens to defend Beauchamp at trial and prove his innocence. Written by
The best Faulkner movie out there (of the many that I've seen)
This is easily the best cinematic version of William Faulkner's fiction that I've ever seen, and I've seen several of the most prominent ones. Filmed in Faulkner's hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, it really captures the feeling of Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County. Intruder in the Dust is not one of Faulkner's best novel, but, even if it is a cliché to say this, it would be the crown jewel in any one else's career. It beats Harper Lee's good but simplistic To Kill a Mockingbird fifty feet into the ground (I read that one in ninth grade, and that's exactly where it belongs). Two of Faulkner's most prominent characters play major parts in the film, Gavin Stevens and Lucas Beauchamp. Stevens is probably the single most common character in all of Faulkner's fiction. He's a lawyer and he works easily as a narrator, because, unlike many of his other characters, Stevens is a man of logic, not emotion (at least when he's older). Lucas Beauchamp may be the most prominent of all of Faulkner's black characters (he plays a major part in one of Faulkner's out-and-out masterpieces, Go Down, Moses); unlike all of the other black folks in Yoknapatawpha, he refuses to bow down to any white man. He has pride, and many in the white population find that an execrable quality in a black man. One day, Lucas is found standing over a dead white man with a recently-fired pistol in his possession. Most of Jefferson and the surrounding areas don't see the need for a trial, and everyone's pretty sure that Beauchamp will be lynched before the evening's over, or at least the next day, as the murder and arrest occurred on a Sunday. Beauchamp, on the other hand, declares his innocence and tries to get Stevens to help him. Stevens refuses; the case seems open and shut. But his young nephew, Chick Mallison, because Lucas had helped him in the past, is willing to help him now.
As far as I know, no Hollywood film of this period deals with racism as overtly as this one. Hollywood films rarely persecute the black population, but instead prefer to relegate them to servant roles. If you're an African American actor, you might as well give up and accept that role as either the mammy, the maid, the servant, or the porter, because that's the only way you'll work. In Intruder in the Dust, there is to be found one of the most memorable non-porter roles a black actor ever had, Lucas Beauchamp. And Beauchamp, as I described above, is no stereotypical character, and might have been hard for audiences to accept. Even today, black characters are usually simple, magical, and kind. The recent arthouse hit Far from Heaven is a great example of that. Beauchamp is kind of a jerk, and he's very stubborn. Although he's perhaps a little less so here than he is in the novel, he's not any kind of stereotype. He's a complex human being. Juano Hernandez plays Beauchamp extraordinarily well. I haven't seen the film in a while, but he also appears in Robert Aldrich's 1955 film, Kiss Me Deadly, as well as the cinematic adaptation of Faulkner's final novel, The Reivers.
All the actors are great in the film. I should also praise quickly Claude Jarman Jr., who has the great role of Chick Mallison. The novel takes place from his point of view, and he is the conventional hero of the picture. Jarman is quite an actor; he captures the character (who also appears elsewhere in Faulkner's fiction, narrating, for example, events that happened a decade or more before he was born in the 1957 novel The Town) perfectly. He would appear in another great role the next year in the underrated John Ford film Rio Grande. The only other film of Clarence Brown's that I've seen is National Velvet, quite a different picture than Intruder in the Dust. His job here is exceptional; I really have to credit him with capturing Faulkner perfectly. Other famous Faulkner adaptations are too melodramatic (The Long Hot Summer, filmed in 1958, which I really like despite that) or too cold (Tomorrow, filmed in 1972, which I do not like; that coldness is a complete misunderstanding of Faulkner). The only other one that really does well according to its source material is Douglas Sirk's great 1958 filming of Pylon (really a different sort of Faulkner novel altogether), Tarnished Angels. 10/10.
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