William Shatner starred in The Intruder, a gritty black and white film directed by Roger Corman about racial segregation in 1962.
Hollywood legends are made in moments; while an actor like Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, or Mark Hamill make look at their careers as organic lifeforms that grew over decades, you can often focus on one or two moments that led to those stars becoming the names we know today. For William Shatner, you may think that those moments began when he put on the captain’s uniform of the Starship Enterprise in the original Star Trek in 1966, but it was actually four years earlier when he starred in The Intruder. The social commentary provided by the film was important to everyone involved, and in 2023 America, it is even more important that you watch it for free right now on YouTube.
At the time the film was released, America was divided on the issue of desegregation, gripped in fear, hate, racism, and violence at the thought of allowing black kids to go to school in white school buildings. It was shot in gritty black and white and used real townspeople who largely played themselves, with only a few professional actors; look at the IMDb page for proof. Director Roger Corman wanted as much realism as he could get, so he elected to shoot in a southern state but northern enough to be safe, choosing the boot heel of Missouri.
William Shatner stars in The Intruder, playing Adam Cramer, an out-of-towner that breezes into the small town wearing a crisp white suit and delivering charm and lovability to the white residents and spitting antagonistic rhetoric to the black residents. At the time, Shatner was primarily a stage actor, having appeared on many TV series, including The Ed Sullivan Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the first of two appearances on The Twilight Zone. He was yet to be a big name and was not yet the charismatic Captain Kirk we would come to know him as.
When Roger Corman cast William Shatner in The Intruder, he was at the top of his game and was one of the most sought-after and beloved filmmakers in the industry. He had dropped the first two films of his long-running love affair with Edgar Allen Poe with Pit and the Pendulum and House of Usher, and he gave us the dark comedies of the time, A Bucket of Blood and The Little Shop of Horrors. Shatner played a young Charles Bronson in Machine Gun Kelly, defined teen exploitation with Teenage Doll and Sorority Girl, and dabbled in sci-fi with Attack of the Crab Monsters, War of the Satellites, and Not of This Earth.
The pairing of Roger Corman and William Shatner in The Intruder is one of the truly great films of the mid-20th Century that spoke on the narrative of the time. While the townspeople in the real-life Missouri town responded to Shatner’s impassioned speech as Cramer with adoration because they genuinely were pro-segregationists and believed him to be the film’s hero, it spoke on who we were as a country in 1962. Sure, William Shatner is a Hollywood legend because he brought the Starship Enterprise to life, but it, unfortunately, overshadowed his moment in The Intruder.