William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust, which is being screened at the Brooks Museum of Art in conjunction with the museum's epic Carroll Cloar exhibit, represents one of Hollywood's finest attempts to explore racism in the rural South. It was shot in 1949, during the brief period following WWII when Hollywood developed a rather keen social conscience. That conscience would crumble abruptly in the 1950s when Senator Joseph McCarthy's red-baiting paranoia gripped the country and any work of art depicting class struggles was labeled Communist propaganda.
Intruder, which stars the great Puerto Rican actor Juano Hernandez (pictured) as Lucas Beauchamp and was shot on location in and around Oxford, Mississippi, opens with a muddied and battered police car rolling into Oxford. Its cargo: Beauchamp, a black landowner toting a recently fired pistol. There's no need for a trial, and white agitators pour into town by the busload in anticipation of a fiery lynching. Only a teenage boy, an elderly woman, and a reluctant lawyer stand between the innocent accused and the angry mob.
Intruder was a deeply personal project for director Clarence Brown, an established Hollywood presence, who had been raised in East Tennessee and spent part of his early, pre-Hollywood adulthood selling cars in Alabama. As a young boy, Brown had witnessed a lynching, and the memory had always haunted him.
Ben Maddow, the writer who adapted Faulkner's novel, had been involved in a number of leftist causes in the 1930s and was eventually blacklisted and forced to work through "fronts."
Intruder in the Dust at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art Thursday, July 11th, 7 p.m. $6 for museum members and students, $8 nonmembers. brooksmuseum.org