My twin daughters, 14 years old, read the novel To Kill a Mockingbird last semester in their English class. I recalled having to read that same book when I was in junior high and then getting to watch the movie in class, as we wrapped up that novel. I was surprised, and pleasantly so, when a year ago I stumbled upon a movie airing on TCM that was a similar plot to Mockingbird and was also written by a Southern US born and raised author, William Faulkner; my surprise was that here was a movie just as involving and good as To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was unknown to me. That movie was 1950’s Intruder in the Dust, made by MGM 10 years before To Kill a Mockingbird was published and 12 years before its film version was released in theatres.
There are 4 main characters in this film: Lucas Beauchamp(played so well by Juano Hernandez), Chick Mallison(Claude Jarman Jr.), John Gavin Stevens(David Brian), and Miss Habersham(Elizabeth Patterson). These 4 all live in the same small town in Mississippi. Lucas is a black man who owns property. He owns some acreage outside of town, with a modest home, and the river runs through his land. Chick is a typical, gangly 15 year old teenager, who enjoys rambling around in the woods hunting. He’s polite, quiet, and often deep in thought. His Uncle John Stevens is a well-thought of lawyer in town. Miss Habersham is a kind, polite elderly lady who proves that she isn’t one to just sit in her rocking chair and knit all day!
The plot is about a murder, a wrongly accused man, those trying to protect and prove that man’s innocence, and those who want to see the accused man dead. At 87 minutes, it is a fast-paced film and hits all of the right notes in portraying Faulkner’s book, and it was filmed in Faulkner’s hometown of Oxford, Mississippi.
A businessman, Vinson Gowrie, has been found murdered. It is assumed that Lucas Beauchamp is the murderer and he is arrested and charged with the crime. As Lucas is being taken to jail, the townspeople form an angry mob leading to the jail’s front doors. In the crowd of onlookers is Chick. Lucas makes eye contact with him and asks the boy to find his Uncle John, and to ask Uncle John to be his lawyer. From this point, the movie becomes a flashback, with Chick urging his Uncle John to take up Lucas’s case.
Chick relays to his Uncle John that in November when he, Chick, was out hunting with his friend Aleck, Chick accidentally fell into the frigid waters of the river and Lucas happened to hear his cries and rescued him, took him to his own home, put him by the fire, and got him some warm clothes to put on while waiting for Chick’s wet clothes to dry. Chick tells his Uncle that he was ashamed that he never properly thanked Lucas for saving him, allowing it to the fact that he wasn’t raised to show respect to black people. From that point in the movie, Chick and Lucas do develop a friendship. Chick also recalls for his Uncle John how one day when at the General Store, Vinson, the murdered victim, insulted Lucas and was about to hit him in the head before the other men in the store stopped him. Chick theorizes that that incident could be why Lucas has been wrongly accused. Uncle John finally agrees to take Lucas’s case.
With the flashback now over, the film goes forward to the present. Uncle John visits Lucas in jail and learns from him that a white businessman, a lumberyard owner, had beaten Lucas to get him to confess that Vinson Gowries, the man’s business partner,was the culprit stealing lumber from the business. Lucas refuses to divulge anymore information to Uncle John, but he does tell Chick to go and dig up Vinson’s body as he is positive that the bullet in the corpse is not a match to the bullets in Lucas’s gun. Uncle John finds out about the plan to dig up the body and disagrees with it, but Chick and Aleck find a helpful soul in Miss Habersham, who is convinced of Lucas’s innocence. Together, the 3 go on a mission to dig up that corpse.
I don’t want to divulge anymore of the plot but suffice it to say that it is a good mystery, well-acted, and worth seeking out for a viewing. Intruder in the Dust can be found via Amazon either to buy or view on their “instant rent” and it will be shown on TCM(Turner Classic Movies) Monday, January 19th, at 6:00 am EST/5:00 am CST, so set that dvr!