Between Little Rock and Selma, Tartuffe descends upon the segregationists. The title evokes Faulkner, and sure enough here's the southern burg laid bare by a modernist pen, namely Roger Corman's vehement camera. The provocateur (William Shatner) is a "social reformer" in white wool and dark glasses, off the bus and into the backwater to stoke the fires of "the integration problem." He rouses the rubes, preys on high-schoolers, and sees little difference between Socrates and Hitler—a zoom into his corneas reveals the demonic gleam of ingrown fascism, the crowd hangs on to every vile word. "Are you a great man?" "Not yet." His opposite number is the traveling salesman (Leo Gordon) who recognizes a fellow peddler's pitch, meanwhile the reformed nymphomaniac (Jeanne Cooper) watches the cross burning from her window ("thrifty cut-rate" is reflected in neon next to the hateful flame). The period of necessary change as an interlude of heat and terror, the painful illumination at the bottom of the tar pit of prejudice: The centrist newspaper editor (Frank Maxwell) sees the light, and gets his eye stomped out for his trouble. Heisler's Storm Warning is the point of departure, Corman simply heads down to the real locales and shades Shatner's virtuosically hysterical turn into a raw background of redneck bit players. (Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan are in the cast, getting glimpses of real-life science-fiction.) The result is not an anomaly in the auteur's oeuvre but a fervid distillation of his distinctive absurdism in urgent political terms, paving the road for Penn's The Chase and Pasolini's Teorema, even. "Wake up, boy, that mob is the boss." The agitator lies alone and dwarfed at last, the Civil Rights Movement still had plenty of beasts to face ahead. With Beverly Lunsford, Robert Emhardt, Charles Barnes, and Katherine Smith. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce