Roger Corman directed some truly commendable films in his day, and Shame may be one of his crowning achievements. The director may be most well known for his proficiency at churning out schlocky B movies with cheap monster costumes, cute girls in their underwear and Z grade scripts, but he found time now and then to really put his heart and soul into creating more personal, meaningful films in between all the more marketable drive-in flicks. Put Shame on your queue next time you sign into your movie download service.
The film is shockingly courageous when you take the context into consideration. Shame is about racial relations and tensions in small southern towns. Now, when people were making movies like this in the eighties and nineties, decades after the success of the civil rights movement, that’s one thing. Corman took a crew down to a real small southern town during the civil rights era and actually filmed on location, where he and his team were constantly subjected to harassment and threats from the local populace.
The real star of the film is William Shatner as a villainous political agent. He’s currently working for a segregationist running for office, and he moves into this town with one purpose in mind: Stir up racially motivated violence. It’s a dark, disturbing character, and Shatner is incredible in the role. He usually plays the sort of roles that play off of his boyish charm and good looks, his uniquely friendly sense of machismo and his humor. To see this reversed in this early role is something like seeing Henry Fonda as the villain in Once Upon a Time in the West.
The idea of casting Shatner as a vile, disgusting villain may have been inspired by the charisma of Adolf Hitler: You need a charming man to sell evil ideas.
Corman and his crew were actually run out of town when the local police got wise to what sort of a movie he was doing, and the last few shots he grabbed were literally filmed with the police only a few blocks away and closing in. Literally, the police were walking towards Corman at the time he was filming the last few shots, and he had to hurry up and wrap the shoot, and then pack everything in the truck and vamoose.
Corman is earning a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars in 2010, but there has been sadly little coverage of his life and times in cinema. For as much as he’s contributed, Corman’s Oscar is long overdue.
Yes, Corman made a name for himself as a schlockmeister, but he also directed some real American classics and he launched the careers of Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson and Martin Scorsese, to name a few. The modern cinematic landscape wouldn’t be the same without Corman’s incredible contributions to the industry.
If you haven’t really given Corman his day in court yet, watch Shame, and then check out X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes. By creating low-profile B flicks on low budgets, Corman was able to get away with pretty much anything by simply flying under the radar and making every film as a low-risk investment, opening up several doors for creativity and the ability to deal with sensitive issues.