Director: Clarence Brown | USA | 1949 | 87 minutes
Lucas Beauchamp, an innocent black man, is accused of murder in this locally-filmed adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel about the Jim Crow-era South, championed by Ralph Ellison as “the only film that could be shown in Harlem without arousing unintended laughter, for it is the only one… in which Negroes can make complete identification with their screen image.”
Intruder in the Dust is considered, along with Pinky, No Way Out, and Home of the Brave, to be one of four “problem pictures,” made as Hollywood began to address the mounting racial tension in America. Faulkner accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature thirteen months after Intruder in the Dust hit the screen (and one year after the novel itself was published). The film version was, interestingly, adapted not by Faulkner but by Ben Maddow, screenwriter for The Asphalt Jungle, Johnny Guitar, and God’s Little Acre.
Despite the disapproval of studio head Louis B. Mayer, MGM purchased the rights from Faulkner for $50,000. Intruder in the Dust was filmed, per Faulkner’s request, in and around his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, with lodging provided by the University of Mississippi and, in the case of black actors, “in the homes of Oxford’s colored leaders,” according to a letter from the Chamber of Commerce to MGM. Dailies were shown at the town’s Lyric Theatre, and many townspeople appear onscreen as extras.
Boxer-turned-actor Juano Hernandez, who had previously appeared in several films by iconic African American director Oscar Micheaux, ultimately earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Beauchamp. As Donald Bogle writes in his film reference, Blacks in American Films & Television: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, “One leaves Intruder in the Dust having seen something else quite startling, and new to American movies: it presents us with Hollywood's first black separatist movie hero. As Hernandez plays Lucas, he is a truly towering figure: independent, proud, testy, outspoken, resilient, often impossible, even downright insufferable. It is an impressive performance, one of the strongest in the history of blacks in American films. Hernandez won two European awards for his work. But in the United States, his performance, while appreciated by many critics, generally went unnoticed and was forgotten soon afterward. The same was true of this vastly underrated film.”
Brooks Films presents this series of films written or inspired by southern author William Faulkner in celebration of the museum’s new Carroll Cloar Gallery, which opened in September. Born in the Delta, Cloar evolved into the most famous painter to emerge from this region. His hauntingly beautiful evocations of the American South draw upon family stories, photographs of ancestors, rural scenery, small town life, and memories of his childhood near Earle, Arkansas.
$9/$5 Brooks members and students with valid ID/Free with VIP Film Pass.
Tickets are available online until 2:30 pm the day of the screening or 2:30 pm on Friday for weekend matinees. Tickets are also available at Visitor Services, or by calling 901.544.6208 during regular business hours. Unsold tickets are also available in the rotunda immediately preceding a screening.