Twelve years before Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, (book in 1960, movie in 1962), there was William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust (book in 1948, movie in 1949), one of the earliest books/movies to deal frankly with the social aspects of racial injustice.
In 1940s Yoknapatawpha County, rural Mississippi, black farmer Lucas Beauchamp (Juano Hernández) is accused of a murder he says he didn't commit.
As he's being led handcuffed into the jailhouse, past the glaring eyes of bigoted white men, he calls out a young man in the crowd – Chick Mallison (Claude Jarman Jr.) – and tells him to fetch his uncle, lawyer John Gavin Stevens (David Brian).
Chick had once spent a lot of time trying to pay Lucas back for a kindness, but to no avail. Uncle John assures him that Nub and Crawford Gowrie (Porter Hall and Charles Kemper), father and brother of victim Vinson Gowrie (David Clarke), won't start anything until Sunday's done.
Lucas sends Chick on a research mission to find out what kind of bullet killed Vinson Gowrie. When he gets no support or help from Uncle John, Chick takes matters into his own hands. But he does get help from a feisty old spinster, Miss Eunice Habersham (Elizabeth Patterson), and Lucas' son, Aleck (Elzie Emabuel). They head to the cemetery, but the coffin ... is ... empty.
The revelation gets Uncle John stirred up, and he calls on Sheriff Hampton (Will Geer) to do something about it. To keep the expected lynch mob from getting to Lucas, they need someone at the door – a white woman, say ... Miss Eunice. They find Vinson's body, but is it too late to save Lucas?
Here's where the truth comes out.
Intruder in the Dust is based on William Faulkner's 1948 novel. MGM Studios bought the film rights from Faulkner for $50,000, and shot the film in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. His novel contributed to his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.
The film, however, didn't even break even, with a box office about $150,000 below its production budget of $988,000.
As good a film as it is, Intruder in the Dust can’t hold a candle to To Kill a Mockingbird with its similar themes. And that’s about the size of it.
Quotations I Like from the Film
"In matters of life and death, a man's vocabulary is almighty small." – John Gavin Stevens (David Brian)
"Who can eat more'n two eggs?" – Sheriff Hampton (Will Geer)
"I'm going for eighty, and I'm not tired yet." – Miss Eunice Habersham (Elizabeth Patterson)