Justice is the truth, and the truth is the satisfaction of reason. Reason complements emotions triggered by the sense and guides a man to a purposeful action as a beacon of judgment. What motivates the teenage boy Chick Mallison and the lawyer John Gavin Stevens to help Lucas Beauchamp, a respectful and affluent black farmer, accused of killing a white man, is the desire for finding justice, the truth. “Intruder in the Dust” (1949), directed by Clarence Brown, shows that the search for truth excels in the infirmities of whimsical human characters based on William Faulkner’s selfsame novel published to a wide acclaim a year before.
Shot in black and white, the thematic of truth in the darkness of ignorance blinded by racial prejudice manifests itself in the transparency of facial expressions of the characters like ancient Greek theatrical masks to magnify the emotions and feelings of performers on stage. Lucas (played by Juano Hernandez) is laconic like an old Spartan. Still, his a few words carry the authenticity of truth, emphasized by his dignified aura surrounding the natural, confident being that commands attention to himself. As Shakespeare’s adage of true nobility as being exempt from fear, Lucas counteracts the mob psychology driven by the vacuously temerarious inquisition of popular sentiment in poised stoicism pleading for truth, not feelings.
The subject of humanity is likely to be invoked for the anodyne ingredient to resolve the racial tension. Still, Falkner’s “good” white folks are more driven by a curious concoction of investigative natures, intelligent propensities, and occupational instincts blended well in the egoistic sense of fulfillment wonderfully producing a diamond of truth as though it were a wondrous alchemical process. The teenage Chick (played by Claude Jarman Jr.) and Lucas’s lawyer John Gavin Stevens (played by David Brian) are conscientious and principled, with whom we can refer to “good” white folk. Still, they are not entirely free from their prejudices about the colored, especially the blacks. Even Chick becomes indignant and intentionally drops the money when Lucas declines it from him as a token of gratitude and orders him to pick it up. The lawyer Stevens is neither particularly jovial with his client in the way he would be with his white client. However, both Chick and Stevens intend to descry the truth behind the machination of unreason that rains on the minds of the white people in the town because they are inherently good, even though they are biased. They are good people because their reason prevails upon unreason, and their search for truth outshines their prejudice. It’s what matters to the justice and life of Lucas, the black man who is not necessarily a chum of theirs.
“Intruder in the Dust” may be parallel to “Who Killed a Mockingbird?” because of its similar subject and genre of the film, let alone their original novels that were written by southern writers. But what gives to “Intruder in the Dust” is its sense of realism in the likeness of truth. I find the characters in “Intruder in the Dust” more ordinary, more plausible, and more human. This film delineates a congress of human characters amid a universe of varied emotions and a sea of dangerous adventures, which illustrates both the never-ending dilemma and possible solution. The stellar performance of the excellent cast orchestrated by the astute director based on an excellent textual basis by William Faulkner culminates in this American Classic Masterpiece Film.