BOOMERANG!(director: Elia Kazan; screenwriters: Richard Murphy/from an article “The Perfect Case” by Anthony Abbot; cinematographer: Norbert F. Brodin; editor: Harmon Jones; cast: Dana Andrews (Henry L. Harvey), Jane Wyatt (Madge Harvey), Lee J. Cobb (Chief Robinson ), Arthur Kennedy (John Waldron), Cara Williams (Irene Nelson), Sam Levene (Dave Woods ), Karl Malden (Lieutenant White), Ed Begley (Paul Harris), Clay Clement (Judge Tate), Mayor Charles E. Moore (Himself), Robert Keith (Mac McCreery), George Petrie (O’Shea), Wryley Birch (Fr. Lambert), Lewis Leverett (Whitney); Runtime: 86; 20th Century-Fox; 1947)
“Elia Kazan, as an afterthought, comments he wished he played up the corruption part of the story in more detail.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A quasi-documentary crime film directed by Elia Kazan that tells the true story of the 1924 murder of Father Hubert Dahme in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the subsequent arrest and trial of a jobless drifter, and the efforts of the state’s attorney Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews) to uncover the truth. The eerie look is enhanced by shooting at the actual location of the incident.
One evening we see a lone gunman wearing a light-colored fedora and a dark coat, walk up to the popular Protestant reverend, Father Lambert, on the small-town Main Street and when within a few inches from him, raise his 32-calibre pistol and fire. There were seven witnesses but none could catch him or provide an exact description.
Political pressure begins to mount for an arrest as the police have no clues and a few weeks go by without any progress. The owner (Leverett) of the “The Record,” the newspaper that wishes to exploit this current administration’s failures in crime, does so as a way of getting back at the party that swept into office on a reform platform to clean up the corruption. It wishes to use this story to expose the administration as being inept in catching the murderer. It has its ace political reporter, Dave Woods (Levene), write hard-hitting stories about the police being amateurs. The newspaper owner hopes to win the election by this crusade against the reformers, cynically wanting to get back into power any way he could.
But the police catch a break and a drifter is picked up in Ohio who matches the description and he is armed with the same type of pistol that killed the pastor. He is John Waldron (Kennedy), an ex-army vet, who was honored during WW11 with medals for valor. When he is grilled by the crusty police chief (Cobb) and his lead detective (Karl), he confesses after being sweated for long hours and identified by all the witnesses.
The audience is let in on a secret that Waldron couldn’t have been the killer. An earlier scene right after the murder shows the assistant pastor being told in no uncertain terms by Father Lambert that if he doesn’t do it himself, that he will have to report the assistant to a mental hospital so he could get help for his problem. It is that scene that leads us to believe that the motive for the crime was personal and that, in all probability, the assistant did the killing.
The town has an honest chief of police and district attorney, and it also has the usual dishonest politicians. Henry is told by the nervous party official, Paul Harris (Begley), that he better convict Waldron, that the party better win the next election and stay in power or else his life is ruined and he will take everyone else down with him. He invested all his money in a corrupt land deal and needs his administration to buy that land from him or else he loses his life savings. The catch is that he tricked Henry’s wife Madge (Jane) into lending him money for the deal and he made it look like she’s in on the corruption. This comes at a time when Henry is sure that Waldron is innocent. His investigation finds that Waldron’s gun could not have been the one used in the crime because of a malfunctioning gun pin.
It becomes a question of what will Henry do in court, and this is answered as he shocks the town by seeking to exonerate the accused drifter. The grateful drifter is set free and the corruption in town is only touched upon, but the case is re-opened and the killer we are told was never caught. The Dana Andrews character portrays the real Homer S. Cummings, who went on to become the attorney general under FDR from 1933-39.
This taut, well told story, is suspenseful in the noir tradition of setting a dark mood. The acting is superb, screenwriter Richard Murphy received an Academy Award nomination. Elia Kazan, as an afterthought, comments he wished he played up the corruption part of the story in more detail.
REVIEWED ON 8/29/99 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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