May 13, 2009 at 7:11 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

Boomerang is a 1947 film directed by Elia Kazan, Kazan’s 3rd film, and includes a fairly large cast of film noir favorites. Dana Andrews is the star and a film noir legend. Other noir stalwarts include Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Sam Levene, Jane Wyatt, Ed Begley and Karl Malden. 

Boomerang has a striking and violent beginning for the period, with the voice-of-god narraration setting the stage while a minister walks along the street saying hello to the townspeople. Suddenly a pistol comes into the frame just above and behind the minister’s head. A quick cut away to the townsfolk minding their own business on the street and the shot rings out. 

From then on, the chase begins for the killer of the beloved minister. The entire local rabble is brought in for questioning and the townspeople are calling for action. This is all shown in a couple of montage sequences which is well done and is good for the economy of the film. 

Finally, the police think they have their man in John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy) who is a war veteran that is down on his luck. He is interrogated without a lawyer for hours on end by Police Chief Harold Robinson (Lee J. Cobb) and Lt. White (Karl Malden). The sleep depravation and other interrogation methods finally force Waldron to confess and the trial ensues. Andrews plays the State’s Attorney Henry Harvey that is trying the case of the roustabout Waldron. 

This film, if it is about only one thing, it is corruption. All the while the police are looking for the killer of the minister; the ones who have the power in the town are trying to use the killing as a means of gaining more power. Henry Harvey gets caught up in this and the pressure is also put on Robinson to get someone for the murder. 

Harvey puts on the pressure, but still retains some of his morality. He wants to seek the truth, but once the governor’s office is dangled in front of his face; his morality takes a back seat to his ambition.

 The noir elements of this film are most noticeable in the low angle shots used by Kazan, Kazan’s night scenes, and the Arthur Kennedy character Waldron. Waldron, though not the protagonist, is the one who is subjected to the roller coaster ride of fate. He is being accused of murder and has no real recourse. He is having trouble re-adjusting to life coming back from the war and is extremely conflicted and volatile, especially as he becomes more a pawn in the powerbroker’s local political maneuverings.   

The look of this film is tempered a bit from noirs such as Out of the Past and The Big Combo, but mainly because Kazan is not generally considered a film noir director. Along with Boomerang, Kazan’s only other noir direction is for Panic in the Streets. Both of which are early examples of docu-noir with their style not as stark because of the more realistic documentary look that is also being sought. 

As a docu-noir, this film is based upon a true story and the film is shot entirely on location in a small town in Connecticut. Many of the residents of the small town were used as extras and in minor roles. 

Spoiler Alert

 Dana Andrews’ character is different from many noir protagonists because he is not as subject to the fatalism that pervades most noir pictures. Andrews has control of the situation and he finally overcomes his own ambition for the Governship to do the right thing and seek the truth about the murder. He never finds the truth, as the case is still unsolved, but he does not convict an innocent man.


 This is a solid film with lots of solid acting. The cast is rather large, but each character has enough depth to set them apart from one another. It is not a visually striking as many of the better film noirs, but that can be explained by Kazan’s desire for a measure of realism.

 The first two-thirds of the film are much better than the last third. The courtroom scenes that dominate the ending of the film are almost laughable and any chance at realism is thrown out the window with the ridiculous proceedings that would have been ridiculous even for 1947 audiences.

 I still recommend this film, as it gives an eye toward what would eventually develop into a style for Kazan, because many of the actors are noir regulars that make most films worth watching, and because the portrayal of corruption is rather complex and ironic with the “reformers” being just as corrupt as the system they are attempting to reform.


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