Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Intruder In The Dust (1949)

WHO: Puerto Rico-born actor Juano Hernandez, directed by Clarence Brown.

WHAT: In 1968, Andrew Sarris published a book calling director Clarence Brown a "subject for further research." The same year, Kevin Brownlow wrote:
Clarence Brown is one of the great names of American motion pictures -- one of the few whose mastery was undiminished by the arrival of sound. Thanks to the widespread fame of his Garbo pictures Anna Christie, Conquest, and Anna Karenina, Clarence Brown is unlikely to become a neglected master. His Intruder in the Dust, a study of racial conflict in the South, is the finest picture ever made on that subject. His The Yearling has become a classic. Yet his films of the silent era have been completely forgotten. 
What a difference a generation makes. I'm probably not the only one these days who actually feels more conversant in Brown's silent films (particularly his wonderful The Goose Woman and Flesh and the Devil) than with his talkies. I'm very excited to see Intruder in the Dust, one of his most highly-acclaimed pictures and one that I can't recall screening anywhere nearby in recent years.

As for Juano Hernandez, you may remember him from his roles in Jacques Tourneur's wonderful drama Stars In My Crown, or in Michael Curtiz's The Breaking Point (seen at last year's Noir City). The latter film gets a multi-article spread in the Noir City Annual #5, which I mentioned yesterday, including an article specifically on Hernandez, written by Robert Ottoson.

WHERE/WHEN: 9PM tonight at the Castro Theatre

WHY: Lets face it. Mid-century Hollywood filmmaking was marked by a systematic exclusion of complicated and sympathetic portrayals of non-white Americans from the screen. The Noir City audience includes people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, but there would be something strange about spending ten days each year celebrating this era without ever commenting on this exclusion. One way of commenting is to showcase the rare exceptions, and Intruder in the Dust by all accounts qualifies. There were many noir films that used black actors in memorable roles that paid decent salaries, but these roles were usually very small, were often uncredited, and frequently reinforced stereotypes that helped contribute to feelings of white superiority. A seemingly-innocuous shot of African-Americans in a piano bar scene in the 1947 Repeat Performance, shown the other night, for example, was placed to illustrate how the adulterous romance of two white characters forces them to frequent locales where they'll never be discovered by their fancy friends from Broadway. I'm excited to see films tonight that treat black characters as more than set dressing. 

Intruder in the Dust may have been a commendable exception for its studio MGM, but it is paired tonight with a film that shows us what Hollywood simply would not touch when it came to on-screen portrayals of non-whites: the 1951 version of Native Son, starring the novel's author Richard Wright in the role of Bigger Thomas. The story could not be filmed in the United States at that time, so it was made in Argentina with a crew headed by respected French director Pierre Chenal (you may have seen his 1935 version of Crime and Punishment at the PFA last month). Released in a cut version (the full story is told in the same Noir City Annual #5), tonight will see the West Coast premiere of a new restoration of this rarity.

HOW: Both films will screen in 35mm prints.


  1. Not noir, but an interesting case in point is Young Man with a Horn. I read the book, published in 1938, which discusses race in the 20s and 30s, and has a larger number of African-American characters. Aspects of three major characters in the book are incorporated by Juano Hernandez in the 1951 film.

    By the way, caught a photo of you with a couple of Noir City visitors on Facebook. The beard is new, for me. Is that the same hat?

  2. No, a new hat, thanks to my new sister-in-law who is a hatter by trade! I'm assuming the photo you mean is one from a visit to Clarion Alley.

    I haven't seen Young Man With A Horn or read the novel. I look forward to seeing more Juano Hernandez roles in the future. Intruder In the Dust has been a real highlight of the week so far.