Film Score: David Buttolph Cinematography: Norbert Brodine
Starring: Dana Andrews, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and Arthur Kennedy
Call Northside 777, or Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man both from the following year. Directed by the great Elia Kazan, Boomerang is based on a Readers’ Digest piece from 1945. The story is simple enough, a popular priest in a small Connecticut town, Wyrley Birch, is gunned down one night on Main Street. Several people witnessed the murder, but they only saw the back of the man, wearing a dark coat and light colored hat. Unfortunately, he ran off down an alley and disappeared before he could be found.
Lee J. Cobb is the police captain who is being pressured on all sides to find the killer but he, literally, has nothing to go on. The witnesses are useless because no one saw his face. Add to that the fact that the district attorney, Dana Andrews, is in danger of being voted out of office over the case, which means Cobb could be gone as well. What makes the case even more difficult is that the priest had a reputation for honesty and there were several people who had secrets that he threatened to expose because of it. With no actual evidence to go on the police are forced into arresting everyone fitting the description until they find someone who knew the priest. Needless to say, they may have the wrong man.
Arthur Kennedy plays the suspect and does a good job. While Dana Andrews is the nominal star of the picture, he’s really just one member of a good ensemble cast. Lee J. Cobb, who would reach his zenith in 12 Angry Men after a brilliant turn as Willie Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman on Broadway under the direction of Kazan, is good but on his way to being typecast. Karl Malden is the most impressive as the young police detective who grills Kennedy for two days without sleep. Jane Wyatt, who received second bill behind Andrews, does very little here as his wife. Likewise, Ed Begley has a small role with very little impact on the plot until the end.
As a legal case, it’s interesting enough, but certainly not gripping drama and I’m not sure it really could have been made so. There’s also a lot of politics involved and the willingness of the political bosses to sacrifice a man’s life, a war veteran at that, for strategic maneuvering is not really as dramatic as it is unseemly. Call Northside 777 with Jimmy Stewart was a lot more interesting, and even Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man dragged at times, so it’s expecting a lot for a lesser story to keep the audience’s attention. It’s a vintage true crime drama with classic actors, and as such it merits some attention, but overall Boomerang is not great cinema.