This dramatization of a factual incident opens in a quiet Connecticut town where a kindly priest is murdered while waiting at a street corner. The citizens are horrified and demand action from the police. All of the witnesses identify John Waldron, a nervous out-of-towner, as the killer. Although Waldron vehemently denies the crime, no one will believe him. District Attorney Henry Harvey is then put on the case and faces political opposition in his attempt to prove Waldron's innocence.
Dana Andrews ... State's Atty. Henry L. Harvey
Jane Wyatt ... Madge Harvey
Lee J. Cobb ... Chief Harold F. 'Robbie' Robinson
Cara Williams ... Irene Nelson - Waitress at Coney Island Cafe
Arthur Kennedy ... John Waldron
Sam Levene ... Dave Woods - 'Morning Record' Reporter
Taylor Holmes ... T.M. Wade
Robert Keith ... Mac McCreery
Ed Begley ... Paul Harris
Philip Coolidge ... Jim Crossman - Killer
Elia Kazan's 1947 docudrama Boomerang dramatizes the courage and independence of a Connecticut States Attorney who stood up to political pressure and fought for dismissal of charges against a defendant accused of murder because he wasn't convinced of his guilt. The film (which I first saw as a boy) is based on an actual killing that took place in 1924 in which a popular parish priest was shot on a main street in Bridgeport, Connecticut in full public view. In spite of the public nature of the killing, the murderer escaped and no suspects were immediately apprehended. Using an unseen narrator to provide background information, the film achieves a hard-hitting realism, conveying the feeling that you are watching events as they unfold.
Produced by Louis de Rochemont, well known for films dramatizing real events such as "House on 92nd Street" and "13 Rue Madeline", performances are uniformly excellent, particularly those of Dana Andrews as Henry Harvey, the idealistic States Attorney, Lee J. Cobb as Police Chief Robbie Robinson, Arthur Kennedy as John Waldron, the ex-GI murder suspect, and Ed Begley as the corrupt Commissioner Paul Harris. The film stays fairly close to actual events with the exception that the States Attorney is shown as an unknown lawyer looking to make a name for himself not the nationally known former Mayor and candidate for US Senate.
Boomerang begins with a description of the crime and then in a flashback shows the priest asking his assistant to get help for his unstated problems and threatening to have him confined in a hospital. This thread is left hanging but Kazan tantalizes the viewer, suggesting without offering any evidence that the troubled assistant had a motive to kill the priest. When the investigation stalls, pressure is put on the police to come up with a suspect and Dave Woods (Sam Levene), a local newspaper reporter, runs a series of stories criticizing the City government for its inaction in hopes of achieving political power for the paper's owner.
After innocent people are arrested simply because they wore clothing that resembled what the killer is alleged to have worn the night of the murder, a disheveled veteran, John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy), is arrested in Ohio in possession of a handgun and returned to Connecticut. Several eyewitnesses pick out Waldron as the killer and the bullet is identified as coming from Waldron's gun. When Police Chief Robinson (Lee J. Cobb), finally extracts a confession after grilling Waldron for many hours, the case seems open and shut.
At the preliminary hearing, however, Harvey is guided by the legal code of ethics that the prosecutor's job is not to gain convictions but to see that justice is done and has doubts about the evidence, arguing against a conviction. Most of the film's dramatic moments take place in the courtroom but there is a back story involving municipal corruption, a theme that Kazan would visit again ten years later in "A Face in the Crowd".
The shocking turnaround by the States Attorney does not sit well with party official Paul Harris (Ed Begley) who invested his savings in a corrupt land deal and needs the present government to remain in power to buy that land from him. Fearing economic ruin, he threatens Harvey and insists the prosecutor try to convict Waldron whether or not he is innocent. The prosecutor remains steadfast, however, and the intense courtroom drama keeps us riveted until the surprising outcome is revealed.
It belongs to a category of movies popular during the last 1940s, semi-documentaries, with voice-overs, often, as here, Reed Hadley in his reassuring baritone. Henry Hathaway doted on the style for a while. Thematically the tension arises from a familar bundle of oppositions: crime control vs. due process. It's a tension that has given us some of our most enjoyable trial movies, including "Young Mister Lincoln." Lately, that is, since Watergate, a third model of the justice system has appeared: namely one in which a secret, conspiratorial hand causes corruption and systemic disorganization -- "True Believer," "All the President's Men," and so on, almost without end. We are stuffed with paranoia like Strassbourg geese. But "Boomerang" belongs to a different period, when a DA could seriously his mission -- "not to prosecute, but to see that justice is done." It's kind of neat, too. Relaxing in its own fairly isometric way. We can bring ourselves to believe that Dana Andrews will do the right thing, even though he's misled into temptation at the beginning of the case. Isn't it nice to believe in the justice system?
I won't repeat the story here, just add a few comments. The acting, fir of all, is up to professional par. Dana Andrews is convincing as the self-doubting and totally human DA. My only problem with his performance is that he pronounces "bullet," as "BOO-lit." (Stop it at once.) Jane Wyatt has an attractive open face and a voice that suggests good breeding. I'm glad to see that no one has jumped on her role as perpetuating a stereotype. Yes, she loves her husband, cuddles up to him, bring him milk and a sandwich -- but she is also quite on top of things too. Before a brawl can erupt in her living room she interrupts the proceedings with a tray and a query -- "BEER, Gentlemen?" Andrews is tortured by his friends who urge him to win the case and run for governor, and other forces that have led him to believe Arthur Kennedy's prisoner may be innocent. Wyatt is massaging his shoulders and he glumly asks, "Remember those sandwiches we bought in the deli downstairs while I was in law school? It would be almost fun to do it again, wouldn it?" But that's clearly not Wyatt's idea of a good time. She pauses in her massage, looks thoughtfully down at him, and replies, "We were both a little younger then, Henry." Of course she's speaking for him as well. Ed Begley, a Connecticut native by the way, debuts here, I think. And he's great. A blustering greedy small-time bureaucrat who's going to lose his shirt if the case against Kennedy is dismissed or lost. Boy, can Begley sweat and act nervous. Arthur Kennedy provides an ambiguous character in his murder suspect. Everything seems stacked against him, but he doesn't play it easy. He's not merely a poor put-upon veteran who is a saint in real life. He's angry, bitter, has had an unpleasant meeting with the murder victim, and was packing a .32 revolver when picked up. He left town "when I wanted to and because I wanted to." In a moment of exhaustion he tells Andrews that he spent all those years in the army and he's not a kid anymore. He didn't want to drive a truck or deliver milk, he wanted to try something new and different. But this is as far as he goes in asking for understanding. We watch his interrogation now, from our 21st-century perspective, and think, "Wow, it's a good thing we don't treat prisoners like that anymore." But we can if we want to, and we sometimes do. The so-called mastermind behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was captured in Afghanistan and, according to former FBI agents, was probably put through the same process as Kennedy in order to get information. Not torture. You don't need torture, as the Chinese taught us during the Korean war. Just keep the prisoner awake and handcuffed behind his back, so someone else has to unzip his trousers in order for him to use the toilet. In supporting roles, Lee J. Cobb, as the cop who changes his mind, is excellent, and so is Karl Malden, who has less to do. I've always loved Sam Levene, no matter what part he's appeared in, and this one, the cynical wisecracking reporter was made for him. There's not a bad performance in the bunch, although I wish Ed Begley had gotten a few sympathetic scenes. Even the judge wears a suitably wry smile at one point as he directs Andrews, "Proceed." Incidentally, Arthur Miller and the director, Kazan, were friends at the time. Miller lived near where the film was being shot and was given the part of an atmosphere person. In the police line-up, he's the tall man in the dark coat on the far left.
This is a fascinating crime and legal drama, all the more surprising because it's true. Andrews takes what appears to be a water-tight case against a suspicious and friendless vagrant and dismisses it by reexaming the evidence against Kennedy. His plea, nulla prosequi, doesn't mean that Kennedy is innocent, just that the state does not plan to prosecute him now. (If the state did, and lost, double jeopardy would apply.) The fact is that Andrews doesn't show that Kennedy didn't do it. He just demonstrates that there is plenty of room for reasonable doubt, usually the defense's job. It took guts for him to do that, to play by the rules, to see that justice was done. An admirable film bout an admirable character.
This film is one of Elia Kazan's early efforts as a director. He presented this story in the semi documentary style pioneered by producer Louis DeRochemont in his "March of Time" short subjects and brought to full length status in Henry Hathaway's "The House on 92nd Street".
In filming this true story, Kazan took his cast and crew to a small Connecticut town similar to the one that the story occurred in. This concept was very effective.
Dana Andrews plays Henry L. Harvey, a Connecticut States Attorney who is prosecuting a particularly sensitive case in which a local revered priest was murdered and a homeless drifter was arrested for the crime after an exhaustive search in which the local police was criticized by both the media and local politicians. When Harvey begins to have some doubts, his case "Boomerangs".
The story is riveting from start to finish and the style Kazan uses adds even more credibility to it. (Kazan used on location filming a few years later in making "Panic in the Streets" and it was just as effective even though the story was fictional).
The acting is first rate. Supporting Andrews is Arthur Kennedy as the suspect, Lee J Cobb as the chief of police, Sam Levine as a reporter who knows all, and Robert Keith as a political leader (his son Brian, who later became a bigger star than his father, has a bit).
"Boomerang!" is a film made during the time when Hollywood was growing up. It's a provocative story about our judicial system that even when viewed today makes you think. And it's done to perfection
Boy, this can be a frustrating story to watch, but the acting was great with a number of well-known people doing their usual excellent jobs. I'm speaking of actors like Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Dana Andrews, Ed Begley, Sam Lavene, Jane Wyatt, Robert Keith and more.
The story shows how people go about doing things for the wrong reasons. It's tragic when it involves a man's life. Here, an Episcopal priest gets shot in broad daylight in a New England town (Hartford, Conn., I think.) Amazingly, he runs away and is not caught. Soon, with no clues and no suspects, the public is demanding action. A lot of this looks like a bunch of clichés, but it's based on a true story.
It's an election year so you have one party which is desperate to hand over a killer and satisfy the public. You have the opposite party led by a defense team which doesn't care if their man's guilty or not; they just want the guy to go free and make the others look bad. The cops, meanwhile, don't want to keep looking bad so they're anxious to pin something on the first suspect that looks really guilty. This sort of thing goes back-and-forth throughout the film. You know the suspect "John Waldron" (Kennedy) is Innocent so it's frustrating watching him get in deeper and deeper.
You see two extremes. In the "old days" like when this was filmed, a guy could be brought into the police station and has harassed to the point of making a false confession. Where's the lawyer? "Ah, you'll get one later," says a cop. It looks ridiculous to us today. Now, we are used to the opposite where the accused doesn't go anywhere or say anything without a lawyer present. It seems too many guilty men go free today but - in this movie's era and previous to that - too many innocent people were sentenced. Wouldn't it be nice to have a middle ground where justice always prevails? Even more ridiculous is somebody allowed to bring a gun into the courtroom but, once again, it's life 60 years ago.
Also involved in the story is an overzealous press (what else is new?), promises of government posts, a scorned woman lying her butt off, a man who has put all his money into a business project and what happens in the case affects him, and the usual "good guy" who won't sell out his principles. Speaking of that, about at the one-hour remark, we see a quote from the "Lawyer's Code Of Ethics." I had to laugh; I don't know one lawyer who subscribes to that! From the above, you get the gist of the story. I won't say more for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say, it's a wonderfully-acted film with some good direction by some young director named Elia Kazan! If you watch, be prepared to have your blood pressure go up and down. It's a very manipulative movie, but that helps make it interesting.