Boomerang! (1947)

Directed by Elia Kazan

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Rationality is on full display in Elia Kazan’s Boomerang!, a film about the quick conviction and acquittal (due to matters of politics and convenience) of a man accused of murder.  The hero here is prosecutor Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews), a young man with sudden political aspirations after the powers that be tell him that once this prosecution is over with he should set his sights on the Governor’s mansion.

Harvey is tasked with prosecuting John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy), accused of murdering a beloved local priest, Father Lambert (Wyrley Birch).  Waldron is arrested based on circumstantial evidence, including the sworn testimony of a small handful of witnesses, his wardrobe and the belief that the bullet was fired from a gun he owned.

As Harvey notes, this is about as open and shut a case there is.  When Waldron signs a confession it feels like the final nail in the coffin, at least in court.  We the audience see just how much coercion goes into that confession and thus how unreliable it is.

Harvey speaks with Waldron and for whatever reason becomes taken with the man, believing his innocence.  He has no reason to buy his story, but Harvey’s change of heart mirrors the reluctance of a police officer (Lee J. Cobb) to believe that this man is really capable of murder.  Once the officer establishes his own apprehension then we buy into it too, and Harvey’s new perspective lines up with our own.

Harvey will challenge every piece of evidence used against Waldron, not to prove he didn’t kill the priest but to call his guilt into question.  As he reminds the courtroom, full of an angry mob mentality that wants their version of justice, it’s his duty not just to convict the guilty but to protect the innocent.

The townsfolk crowd into the small courtroom like they do in To Kill a Mockingbird, already inflated with their own preconceived notions about what Waldron has done and what he deserves.  Various forces will push against Harvey, trying to dissuade him from doing the right thing because it may hurt their political chances going forward.  One man has money tied up in land he had planned to sell to the government, an opportunity that will surely dry up unless Waldron is convicted.

What we’re left with is a case that has far-reaching consequences, almost all of which don’t involve Waldron.  He becomes a human sacrifice for those less honorable and less restrained.  They attach political and financial opportunity to the hurried conviction of a man who means nothing to them (and who served his country in the war, no less).

Henry Harvey attempts to put a stop to all this and to do what is right, regardless of the consequences.  He is Atticus Finch before Atticus Finch, and the final narration tells us that he is based on a real figure, attorney Homer Cummings who went on to become Attorney General of the United States.

Up Next: Pete’s Dragon (2016), High Noon (1952), Starship Troopers (1997)

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