Friday, September 12, 2008

Boomerang (Rhoades)

‘Boomerang!’ Bounces Into the Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Eddie Murphy once made a romantic comedy called “Boomerang,” about a womanizer who falls for his female boss. That’s NOT the movie playing next Monday night at the Tropic Cinema.

Go ahead, breathe a sigh of relief.

Instead, Mary Sparacio of LPTV has selected yet another “Boomerang!” – the 1947 film noir classic starring Dana Andrews as a hard-hitting state attorney who risks his career trying to prove that the man accused of murdering a kindly priest is in fact innocent.
“Boomerang!” was based on a story that appeared in Reader’s Digest. It was mostly filmed in Stamford, Connecticut. Needless to say it caught my eye, in that before moving to Key West I worked for Reader’s Digest and lived about ten miles outside of Stamford. Many scenes in the movie were familiar landmarks to me.

Directed by three-time Academy Award-winner Elia Kazan, “Boomerang!” tells about an actual 1924 murder case, where a priest was shot in broad daylight on a Bridgeport, Connecticut, street corner. Despite witnesses, the killer made his getaway. Only later was a homeless drifter (aptly portrayed by Arthur Kennedy) arrested in Ohio and shipped back for trial. Seems he was carrying the .32 revolver used in the priest’s murder.

The cast is impeccable: Lee J. Cobb as the police chief who sweats a confession out of the suspect. Ed Begley as a party official pressuring the prosecutor to bring in a conviction. Sam Levene as a newspaper reporter goading the local politicos. Jane Wyatt as the prosecutor’s supportive wife. Even the bit role for Karl Malden as a police detective.

Presented in a documentary style, with a sonorous voice-over narrative by Reed Hadley, much of the film takes place inside the courtroom – a setting that Kazan would revisit in his underrated “A Face in the Crowd.”

Even so, this is not a Perry Mason plot where the guilty party is revealed on the witness stand. It’s more a “wrong man” theme, where the DA’s trying to provide the man innocent
Kennedy’s character certainly looks guilty. A man who had a confrontation with the priest, he had the murder weapon in hand … and he even confessed.

But Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews) isn’t convinced. And he’s a rare breed, a DA who believes his job is “not to prosecute, but to see that justice is done.”

The storyline pretty much follows actual events, except that the real Henry Harvey was not simply a small-town lawyer – he was actually a well-known Connecticut state attorney named Homer Cummings who later became Attorney General of the United States.
The screenplay by Richard Murphy was nominated for an Academy Award.
Playwright Arthur Miller had a cameo role in “Boomerang!” (he's the line-up suspect who towers over the policeman), a lark between him and his friend Elia Kazan. Miller later asked Kazan to direct his play “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway. For the 1949 drama Kazan drew on his “Boomerang!” cast, selecting Lee J. Cobb to take on the role of Willy Loman and Arthur Kennedy as his son Biff.

The actors had earned their stripes with “Boomerang!” It’s a movie that stands up well half a century later.

Sure, today the legal system is a little different. We have Miranda rights and better due process. But wrong men get accused all the time. The question is how many state attorneys would stand up and refuse to prosecute.

Filmed in black-and-white, with ominous shadows, this crime drama gets categorized as film noir. But in truth it’s a movie about ethics. [from Solares Hill]

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