13 May 2010

Equal Justice in the American South: "Intruder in the Dust" (1949)

Recently I watched TCM's airing of a film I knew absolutely nothing about, an adaptation of William Faulkner's novel Intruder in the Dust. I gave the film a chance because my cable provider has a relatively reliable rating system for films and gave it 4 of 4 stars. As soon as I saw in the opening credits the film was based on a Faulkner novel I was persuaded.

I made a good decision. This 1949 film documents the real life racial conditions in rural Mississippi in the 1940's. I'll make just two minor additions to TCM's own summary of the film: "Only a young [white] boy and an [elderly white] woman stand between an innocent black man and a lynch mob." The film, with a few small flaws, is excellent.

The film was made on location in Faulkner's home town of Oxford, Mississippi, using the local residents as extras. This adds a raw, authentic quality to the townspeople and the sequences shot in the surrounding woodlands. The film weaves an thrilling crime story with a tale of, to paraphrase one of Faulkner's letters, the responsibilities whites owed blacks in the south -- one part of the United States where equal protection of the law for blacks was no where to be found.

While this film does not have the star power or depth of To Kill a Mockingbird, Juano Hernandez turns in a timeless performance as proud black farmer Lucas Beauchamp.

One side note in closing: I spent the entire film and a good bit of time afterward trying to understand the meaning of the film and the novel's title: Intruder in the Dust. For those of you who might have seen or will see the film, I've got a theory: lumber mill sawdust.

No comments: