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. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <email@example.com>
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.
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