Boomerang (1947)

Boomerang! (1947) is a semi-documentary style innocent-man-in-the-frame returning veteran PTSD corrupt cop and local politics factually based classic film noir, adapted from details of a real life murder that took place in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1924.

Starring Dana Andrews, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Arthur Kennedy and Jane Wyatt, with voiceovers by Reed Hadley, Boomerang also boasts the most comprehensive roster of film noir character actors in all of the styles many movie productions.

By making use of the stentorian voiceover which was becoming increasingly popular as the 1950s fast approached, there is a semi-documentary feel to Boomerang (1947), which seeks noir authenticity not only by broadcasting the action in the voice of authority as it takes place, but under the forward-thinking direction of Elia Kazan, makes good use of New England people and locations, to infuse the film with a special layer of authenticity — a technique becoming more popular as the procedural style evolved.

Boomerang kicks off with a 360° pan in downtown New England, and then brings on the murder in the form of a hand with revolver entering the frame at a steep angle. As the murder is discussed, director Elia Kazan films some tangible cinéma vérité in the form of neighbourhood porches, a pool hall, and the workers at a fire station.

The murder is sudden and the audience are in on it —  the culprit is a nervous momma's boy type, running over with unmentionable sins that we are on the other hand not privy to. The result: episcopal priest Father Lambert is shot dead on a Bridgeport, Connecticut street at night. The police, led by Chief Robinson, fail to find the murderer and the case quickly becomes a political issue, with the police accused of incompetence and the city's reform-minded administration attacked by the corrupt political machine that seeks to regain some kind of power to allow its corrupt dealings to continue.

All the police's work yields nothing, however a vagrant military veteran John Waldron (played by Arthur Kennedy) is arrested in Ohio and meets the general description of the murder suspect. He is extradited to Connecticut and identified in a line-up. 

Crucially, and in the most memorable scenes of the film, this veteran Waldron is interrogated for two days by the corrupt police until, suffering from severe sleep deprivation, he confesses. 

A gun that was in his possession is believed to be that which was used in the shooting, and witness testimony and other circumstantial evidence seem solid enough to guarantee conviction. This includes the testimony of a rather shallow woman who works in a local diner — who appears to have been jilted in love by the vagrant.

Arthur Miller cameo appearance in Boomerang (1947)

Arthur Kennedy in Boomerang (1947)

All the while this is going on, the true killer, a nervous and shifty individual lurks, notably attending the trial of the veteran.

This trial and its theatrics make up the large part of the later sections of Boomerang, proving that a courtroom drama can often be squeezed into an otherwise procedural film noir.

Brutish police interrogation in Boomerang (1947)

So many of the actors in Boomerang would later become almost a stock company for director Elia Kazan — Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Arthur Kennedy and Ed Begley to name a few.

There is also a brief appearance by Elia Kazan's friend the playwright Arthur Miller, who turns out in a line-up, struggling with the cops and looking his vagrant worst.

Lee J. Cobb carries Arthur Kennedy to bed in Boomerang (1947)

See above: police brutality carried out in Boomerang (1947) concludes with the tough-guy hardboiled cop carrying the suspect to bed like a baby.

Both of Kazan's two previous films — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and Sea of Grass (1945) had both been shot in studios, which had frustrated the director's ambition to introduce as much realism as he could into his cinematic production.

When Kazan was in his mid-20s, during the Depression years 1934 to 1936, he had been a member of the American Communist Party in New York for a year and a half.

Dana Andrews in Boomerang (1947)

In April 1952, the House Committee on Un-American Activities called on Kazan, under oath, to identify Communists from that period 16 years earlier. Kazan initially refused to provide names, but eventually named eight former Group Theatre members who he said had been Communists: Clifford Odets, J. Edward Bromberg, Lewis Leverett, Morris Carnovsky, Phoebe Brand, Tony Kraber, Ted Wellman, and Paula Miller, who later married Lee Strasberg. 

He testified that Odets quit the party at the same time that he did and said all the persons named were already known to HCUA, although this has been contested. Kazan recounts how he received a letter detailing how his naming of Art Smith damaged the actor's career, and in fact his naming of names did  cost him many friends within the film industry, including playwright Arthur Miller, although Kazan notes the two did work together again.

The power of Boomerang lies in the character of Dana Andrews, and the fact that he comes to doubt his own case, overturning it himself in court and arguing another case entirely.

Dana Andrews — a film noir good guy everyman at times — is seen in the early stages of the film at home and living the suburban dream, mixing cocktails with his wife played by Jane Wyatt. The home-bird is prey to pressures far above his station, most notably in the form of a real estate swindler played by Ed Begley.

When you think about the Trilby and the Fedora hat, both can look similar, but despite their appearance the main difference is the brim size. Fedoras have a two to three-inch brim, while Trilbies are often two inches or less. 

The importance of each given scene In Boomerang is worth examining — for if Boomerang (1947) is not a film noir — as many will contend —  it is certainly an example of a newer type of film making, with all the innovation of the best of the classic film noir style.

Cara Williams in Boomerang (1947)

For one thing, Boomerang is at times able to move backwards in the story to communicate further information about the departed local religious man, and the lack of success of the police is shown through a series of short but important scenes in which politicians stress out, police officials like that played by Lee J. Cobb become so tired as to want to quite, and the regular citizens of the town — played by themselves — grow angry as newspapers feature articles and cartoons about what is going wrong. 

There is a also the introduction of a police psychiatrist, who becomes involved in the interrogation. What is fascinating about this character is that he simply denies his own pseudo-science by saying that nobody knows what makes killers kill, and that is virtually pointless even trying to understand them. 

There's time too in Boomerang to take in another couple of interesting social themes — the first being mob violence which is brilliantly played out at the back door of the courtroom when a crowded sea of onlookers — best seen from behind as an ocean of bobbing hats — turn up to deliver what only the nob can — death by lynching. 

Ed Begley in Boomerang (1947)

Then there are the corrupt machine politics, played out rather dramatically, probably for reasons cinematic. That is to say that the vast majority of corrupt land deals, when they go wrong, probably do not result in the wielding of firearms and such vital drama as results in the climatic in-court suicide of the businessman who fails as a result of his plot being foiled.

When Dana Andrews' character Harvey refuses to press the case against the man that we-the-viewers know to be innocent and blackmail threats then threaten to overwhelm him and Boomerang becomes an angry and admonitory tale about the dangers in taking the justice system and one's own ideas, for granted. Finally this does allow us a glimpse of the  look at the festering malice that can be found below the pleasant surface of the average American small town. 

Despite classic status, Boomerang (1947) is not a totally archetypal film noir in the fullest sense of the term. There is no darkened doom to the action however, in spite of the story being about a corrupted police force and political system, and an innocent man on trial for a murder he did not commit — both firm film noir staples.

The real truth of this noir is that it is a combination of police procedural and courtroom drama, given noir chops by the depth of 

Kazan went on to direct A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), and East of Eden (1955). He won two Best Director Oscars, an Honorary Oscar, three Tony Awards and four Golden Globes.

Lee J Cobb was named by Larry Parks, an admitted former Communist Party member, as being a Communist in 1951 testimony before the HUAC. Cobb was asked to testify before HUAC, but refused to do so for two years until, with his career threatened by the blacklist, he gave in and in 1953 offered testimony in which he named twenty people as former members of the Communist Party USA. 

After this he went on to work with other HUAC friendly witnesses Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg on the 1954 film On the Waterfront, which can be interpreted as an allegory for testifying.

As for the screen adaptation of the true story, which occurring in 1924 was not quite as fresh as the film might suggest, Boomerang is a classic in the ethics of man-hunting.  

The one thing that is completely added for the film is a subplot involving the prosecutor’s wife (played by Jane Wyatt) and some land that needs to be sold and a blackmail scheme that ends in a suicide in the courtroom that has nothing to do with the actual trial itself. 

In a finally moral way, Boomerang is then a testament to the strength of the judicial system and the fact that in being obsessed with the truth, we can find justice from injustice — a positive message despite the strange coda which attempts to offer some kind of further justice. The original murder on which the story was based was of course never solved — although this one is at least in the minds and eyes of the viewer — a happy arrangement on which to conclude.

This moment is left to one of the stars of the film San Levene, who plays a reporter who drives the story of Boomerang hard and fast, by being slightly ahead of it at all times. 

Sam Levene in Boomerang (1947)

Sam Levene established himself as one of the stalwarts of film noir. He is one of several veterans of the genre who are graduates of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, including Lauren Bacall, Hume Cronyn, Kirk Douglas, Nina Foch, Agnes Moorehead, Thelma Ritter and Edward G. Robinson.

Levene's best known film noir credits include his performance as Samuels, the murdered GI, in Crossfire (1947) and as Lieutenant Lubinsky in The Killers (1946).

Burt Lancaster and Sam Levene also worked together in two other film noirs, Brute Force (1947), directed by Jules Dassin, and the acclaimed media and journalism film noir Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Other Sam Levene noir credits include Dr. John Faron, a psychiatrist in Dial 1119 (1950); Capt. Tonetti in Guilty Bystander (1950); and Howard Rysdale in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957).

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