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A man in a gleaming white suit comes to a small Southern town on the eve of integration. His name is Adam Cramer. He calls himself a social reformer. But his aim is to incite the people against letting black children into the town's white school. Soon he has the white citizens of the town worked up. He thinks he's leading them; but a man he befriends and immediately betrays knows better. The people have become a mob. The black leader of a church and a white newspaper editor soon feel its wrath. But after a false accusation against a black student, Adam Cramer may find the people are totally and permanently out of his control. Written by
A pulverising social tract that complicates, rather than simplifies, issues.
Also known by the more appropriate title 'I Hate Your Guts', this is probably Corman's best film, and takes its visual, stylistic and thematic cue from the work of Fritz Lang, especially 'Fury'. This may sound like an unintelligent, superficial comparison; sure, they're both lynch-mob films, but how can you compare the rigorous intellectual austerity of the German with the sensationalist populism of Corman? Maybe, and this is a film where Corman repeatedly grabs you by the collar and thumps you in the guts, never letting up on the violence or shock, while Lang would keep a more intense distance; but they both achieve the same ends with different results.
This is Corman's most painstakingly worked-out film, which is why it is so powerful, suggesting, like Lang, a set of mathematical propositions that seem simple but, add up to a theorem that seems to negate mathematical principles of logic, order etc. As in a Lang film, there is no 'hero' to root for - the lead here is a sinister right-winger linked to the KKK who arrives in an archetypal Southern town to stir up race hatred. He is given the conventional Hollywood hero treatment: the opening credits set up his point of view, establishing his way of looking at the world.
But even over these credits, Corman confuses us. At first we think he's a solitary figure, it is him alone we see entering the town and looking at it. Then he comes out with a woman and child, and we assume he's a family man, but that turns out to be wrong too. So, in these opening scenes we are presented with a lead character in the conventional manner, but, unconventionally, we are unable to get a grip on him.
Similarly, in spite of the title and the menacing opening music, Cramer's good manners and charm continue to suggest him as a hero, even though he is trying to stir up racist feeling, especially when compared to the next significant male character, a loud braggart who appears to be raping his nymphomaniac wife. In this first third, there are no sides drawn, we might almost be watching a racist film, such is Cramer's conventional heroic status. He even seems a movie star, with his dark shades and good looks, which Corman plays on ironically in the scenes of demagogary and when his 'fans' protest his jailing.
Like Lang, Corman switches point of view disturbingly and decisively. This opening out of point of view makes clear the issues, and in a way that conventional Hollywood cinema of the time could not conceive. The reason films like this were considered 'B' or exploitation is because they were telling truths that official Hollywood didn't even know existed. How many contemporary Hollywood films were even dealing with these issues, never mind as provocatively and intelligently as this one? When they finally got round to it, it was cosy liberal kramergloop.
There is no flip solution here - the moral centre is a moderate racist who is nearly killed for his growing ethical awareness (the newspaper editor) - other liberals are shown to be almost criminally useless. Corman asks questions with no easy answers - how do you enforce progressive laws? how do you hold back a mob without becoming as reactionary as them? Cramer, influenced by Lenin as much as Hitler, makes his appeals to democracy and freedom, and Corman forces us to admit that he is right, to reconsider what we mean by these concepts. This is a stunning film, full of tense calm giving onto explosions of harrowing violence, with an insight into its roots in sexual neurosis, including a sequence where the KKK come into town like an invading army, a huge cross like a tank turret, ready to be burned; a lynch sequence as shocking as Huck Finn or 'The Ox-bow Incident'.
Along with the unusual, Langian clarity of the monochrome imagery, note the grids on or around Cramer - crossed telegraph wires, the bars of the hotel lobby etc. - culminating in the demand for the accursed rapist behind a grilled window, like a frothing beast; or the childlike immaturity of the racists, whose hatred centres around the school's swing. The frightening 'speech' scene, outside a monumental civic building, in Nuremberg-like lighting, is more potent than anything in 'All the King's Men'.
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