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Susan Green

Boomerang Better Than Run-of-the-Mill Thrillers

Hollywood Tries Something Different

(5 May 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 18, 5 May 1947, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Twentieth Century’s Boomerang is miles above the run-of-the-mill thriller. It is based on a real-life unsolved murder in a Connecticut town – the shots were all taken in that town – and is an unvarnished and alarming picture of how near an innocent man can come to being hanged, even if he is not politically “undesirable.” The film story develops as the personal struggle of the States’s Attorney to protect an innocent man against the multiple external pressures to procure a conviction. In the real-life case the State’s Attorney was Cummings who later became Attorney General of the United States. The part is played by Dana Andrews, of Laura fame, with quiet conviction.

The wheels of justice are meshed with the wheels of politics; graft and personal involvements when a popular and well-loved priest in the community is mysteriously shot on a street corner and the police are completely baffled. Immediately the opposition politicians put on the steam. The city government being of the reform variety, its opponents are mostly the substantial citizens who own the press, and other means of propaganda. The camera turns on people listening to their radios, complaining of the inefficiency of the police; on women shouting to each other over wash lines. Such sequences give the feeling of a whole town out for revenge – with the slimy politicians pouring oil on the fire.

The police commissioner has tried to resist the public pressure. There were no clues. What was there to go by? Several townspeople claimed to have seen the murderer running away, stated he wore a dark overcoat and a light hat, were sure they could identify the man. That was all. However, the political stakes were great. The reform government would surely lose the next election if the murder was not solved.

An Unusual Device

The manhunt of the police, bringing into headquarters droves of “criminals” in dark overcoats and light hats, is shown as cruel and terroristic. Neither does the film pretty-up the “persuasive” methods of the police to get a “confession” out of the young man finally apprehended because he left town on the day of the murder and furthermore carried a gun, whom the good townspeople willingly “identified” as THE man. It is also commendable that at this time when war veterans are supposed to be especially well taken care of by the government, Twentieth Century did not tamper with the fact that the innocent man accused of the murder was an unhappy, harassed, maladjusted war veteran, looking around for a more satisfying job than waiting in a coffee pot.

The excitement of the film derives from its unexpected developments. The audience is as electrified as the court when the State’s Attorney, instead of proceeding with the prosecution, asks for a nolle prosequi, a discontinuance of the case. Between the adjournment of court that day and its reconvening the next, the State’s Attorney is again subjected to pressures, threats and the lure of political reward. The suspense here is real and not merely a leg-puller because the man does not know himself what he will do. Up to the time the court reconvenes the struggle in him seems unresolved.

When he starts speaking, one senses that his tone has changed. The audience thinks he may be capitulating, and so does the accused. But slowly the tactic evolves. The State’s Attorney does not ask for a nolle prosequi again, but merely to clarify certain confused points in the State’s evidence. And bit by bit he explodes the evidence, working up to the climax – and a dismissal of the case.

Flaw in Logic

There is one flaw in logic. The film is based on a real unsolved murder. Yet the audience is given the murderer on a silver platter. The priest had advised a mentally sick parishioner that he must be confined to an institution. This was strictly between the priest and the parishioner who conceived the idea that with the priest out of the way nobody else could bother him. But if this was just between the priest and the parishioner, how could anybody else, including Twentieth Century’s writer, have known about it? Presenting the murderer “in person” was a shoddy device for assuring the audience’s sympathy for the State’s Attorney. Also, Hollywood has to show, no matter how crudely and unconvincingly, that crime doesn’t pay. And so this otherwise good film ends with an accident in which the real murderer – about whom we have no business to know – is killed. If the law doesn’t get the murderer, then divine justice does.

Conspicuous for their absence from Boomerang are the glamorous femmes, the cheap love angle, the manufactured thrills that audiences are supposed to crave. Without these over-worked standbys of Hollywood, Boomerang is satisfying entertainment and shows to what advantage the tinsel and artificiality can be dispensed with.

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