What’s it About? When a priest, Father Lambert, is murdered on a Connecticut street, a chain of events is kicked off which sees a disastrous police investigation spiral further out of control before corruption and blackmail creep into frame and the chances of a fair trial are thrown up in the air. The film is based on a true story and was adapted from a Reader’s Digest account of a 1924 murder case.
Verdict: Boomerang! (1947) is both Elia Kazan’s third film and his first worthy of note. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) is a flawed work while The Sea of Grass (1947) is little more than a complete waste of time. Gluing together documentary film tendencies, a gritty neo-realist aesthetic blown over the Atlantic from Europe and the, by then, refined noir styling of the period, Boomerang! is an ambitious and influential work however. Kazan uses local non-professional actors for many of the roles and, as was always his way, he manages to paint his characters with a realism and delicacy that was in many ways ahead of its time.
Kazan would later go on to break the mould and take shooting on location to a new level in Hollywood with On the Waterfront (1954), and this is foreshadowed by Boomerang! which makes use of average Connecticut streets as a point of contrast with both the murder itself and the chaos that ensues in its aftermath. The police, in an act of desperation after failing to apprehend Father Lambert’s killer, begin to arrest anyone and everyone seen wearing a dark coat and a light fedora hat (the outfit adorned by the killer). The theme of police malpractice is taken further later when John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy) is arrested and gives a confession under extreme duress.
State prosecutor, Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews) is tasked with bringing the accused to justice but finds when he looks beneath the surface that not everything is as it seems. Faced with the choice of striving for the truth or simply falling into line and attacking the accused, Harvey also finds the waters increasingly muddied by money, politics, press and public opinion. The film is clearly an exercise in reinforcing the ideal of fairness and democracy in America upheld by good men, something Kazan has spoken about as an immigrant who moved to America as a child. In a scene that typifies Boomerang!’s thesis, when Harvey is asked a loaded question as to whether one man’s life (the accused’s) is worth more than the community’s as a whole, he replies: “Yes Mac, it is”. The film is strongest in its finale – when already the victim of blackmail and feeling pressure from every angle, Harvey must dole out justice in an explosive courtroom closing.
Extras: As always with the Masters of Cinema series, a detailed booklet is provided alongside the Blu-ray. The best of the extras though is a revealing documentary Elia Kazan – An Outsider which delves into the life and career of the director via interviews with him.
Final Words: Its slightly disjointed cobbling together of narrated set ups and a noir-ish narrative doesn’t quite manage to come together as a complete whole, resulting in a film which hasn’t aged terribly well. However, it represents a bold move by the director in trying to combine documentary styles with the popular Hollywood noir of the time. Boomerang! is no masterpiece, yet it’s significant in Kazan’s development as a director who would go on to make such important films as On the Waterfront, East of Eden (1955) and A Face in the Crowd (1957) in the decade to come.