Boomerang, directed by Elia Kazan, is a chilling film noir, the true story about the murder of a priest, the subsequent arrest and trial of a jobless drifter, and the efforts of young state’s attorney Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews) to uncover the truth. Closely based on the actual 1924 murder of Fr. Hubert Dahme in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the film was directed by the young Elia Kazan in a highly effective, semi-documentary style. Kazan shot most of the film on location, using high-contrast cinematography and an extremely mobile camera to create a palpable sense of urgency. The screenplay, expertly crafted by Richard Murphy received an Academy Award nomination.
This noir docudrama, the story of an actual unsolved murder, reflected the taste for true-life storytelling of Twentieth Century Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck. Adapted from a Reader’s Digest article called “The Perfect Case,” Boomerang! concerned the murder of a priest and the subsequent efforts of a prosecutor to exonerate the accused killer, an ex-G.I. whom the police had coerced into confessing. Although the film pointed to a probable shooter (a fellow priest), in reality the crime was never solved. Zanuck and his producer, former “March of Time” newsreel producer Louis de Rochemont, hired young director Elia Kazan, who characteristically refused to oversimplify the characters, all of whom walk a fine line between virtue and corruption. (De Rochemont had just finished work on two other true-life dramas for Zanuck with director Henry Hathaway, both of which employed documentary-style techniques: The House on 92nd Street (1945) and 13 Rue Madeleine (1946), which also included actual documentary footage). Kazan, de Rochemont, and Zanuck made several unusual creative choices to enhance the film’s authenticity. The entire picture, including interiors, was filmed in Connecticut, except for the courtroom scenes, which were staged in White Plains, NY. Kazan and cinematographer Norbert F. Brodin employed a roving camera to enhance the film’s documentary-like feel, and de Rochemont cast most of the smaller roles with non-professional local residents. The end result was one of the earliest examples of the “docudrama” form. Kazan received more attention (and an Oscar) that same year for Gentleman’s Agreement, but his Best Direction award from the New York Film Critics’ Circle was for both films. As a theater director, Kazan had directed the original Broadway production of Death of a Salesman, and playwright Arthur Miller returned the favor by appearing as one of the line-up suspects in Boomerang!.
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