Boomerang! (Kino Lorber, NR)

It’s not one of the all-time great movies, but it’s worth watching for its visual style and incorporation of a real-life story.


Boomerang!, a 1947 film directed by Elia Kazan, opens with the shocking murder of a priest. Said murder takes place in a relentlessly ordinary small town basking in post-war contentment, and great pressure is applied to police chief Harold Robinson (Lee J. Cobb) to arrest the murderer and city prosecutor Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews) to convict him. After initial investigations yield no viable suspects, Robinson begins rounding up everyone for miles around who satisfies a vague description and using coercive tactics to attempt to force a confession so they can get a conviction and close the case.

A homeless ex-soldier, John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy), one of the unfortunates captured by this dragnet, confesses to the murder after several days of intense questioning and sleep deprivation. Despite considerable pressure to just convict the guy and restore everyone’s image of their town as a safe haven from the evils of the world, Harvey insists on carrying out a thorough investigation of the case. This runs contrary to the wishes of local businessman Paul Harris (Ed Begley), who attempts to turn the screws on both Harvey and his wife Madge (Jane Wyatt), who sits on the city council. And since the story takes place in the days when local print journalism was a real force in the world, the story also includes the efforts of both “Morning Record” reporter Dave Woods (Sam Levene) and his publisher T.M. Wade (Taylor Holmes).

Interestingly enough, Boomerang! is one of two “message pictures” directed by Kazan in 1947, the better-known of the two being the anti-Semitism exposé (and multiple Oscar winner) Gentleman’s Agreement. The message in Boomerang! is about the dangers of a rush to justice and the corruptible nature of the criminal justice process, particularly when politicians concerned with their public image and businessmen with private profits at stake are allowed to exert undue pressure on it. It’s not one of the all-time great movies (the Begley subplot is particularly weak, and the film’s attempt to create a motive for the murder seems tacked on), but it’s worth watching for its visual style and incorporation of a real-life story. The cast is also strong, including, besides those already named, Robert Keith, Karl Malden, and Cara Williams, plus a cameo by playwright Arthur Miller (who appears in a police lineup).

Richard Murphy’s screenplay for Boomerang! is based on a real crime that took place in Bridgeport, Conn., in 1924, with many characters in the film corresponding to real people (Andrews’ character, for instance, is based on Homer Cummings, who later became Attorney General of the United States). Cinematographer Norbert Brodine shot it in semi-documentary style, and inclusion of a voice-of-God narration by Reed Hadley and the use of real locations (Stamford, Conn. standing in for Bridgeport) both add to its documentary feel. Kazan includes some visual flourishes as well, with one of the most impressive coming very early in the film when the priest is shot, gangland style, at close range by a disembodied hand and revolver. | Sarah Boslaugh

Boomerang! is distributed on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The main extras on the disc are two audio commentaries, one by Imogen Sara Smith and one by Alain Silver and James Ursini; there are also some trailers for other Kino Lorber releases.

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