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Film / Boomerang! (1947)

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The primary duty of a lawyer exercising the office of public prosecutor is not to convict, but to see that justice is done.
The Lawyers' Code of Ethics

Boomerang! (1947) is a Courtroom Drama / Docudrama directed by Elia Kazan, starring Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, and Lee J. Cobb.

The film takes place in Stamford, Connecticut, an average American town reeling from the grisly murder of a kind and popular priest. The police force, led by Chief Robinson (Cobb), have seven witnesses to the murder but not one clue to lead them to the killer. Facing public and media pressure, the police force scoops up a likely suspect, John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy), an ex-serviceman and vagrant with unlawful possession of a gun, and district attorney Henry Harvey (Andrews) assumes it's an easy conviction. But a deeper analysis of the facts makes this case more complicated than Harvey initially thought.

Received an Academy Award nomination for Richard Murphy's screenplay.

Not to be confused with the similarly named Eddie Murphy film.

This film provides examples of:

  • Amoral Attorney: Harvey is pressured to get a conviction, no matter what the cost, but he realizes that he believes more in justice than in putting someone in jail.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Harvey pokes holes in all the circumstantial evidence and makes a good enough case that there’s no trial, and John is able to go free.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Averted in a way: Robinson isn’t a bad cop, but he does do some crooked things to get a conviction even when he has a bad feeling about it.
  • Based on a True Story: Based on the real-life 1924 murder of a small-town Connecticut priest which is still a cold case.
  • Blackmail: The building developer, Paul Harris, who works with Harvey’s wife decides to blackmail them because he needs Harvey to convict John in order to keep his business afloat.
  • Cassandra Truth: No one believes John because of the seven witnesses that say they saw him shoot the priest.
  • Cheated Death, Died Anyway: The man who the film implies is the killer is never caught or accused, but ends up being killed in a crash while being chased by the police for speeding.
  • Da Editor: Taylor Holmes. And he wants to bleed out the police force for their inaction.
  • Determinator: Harvey is going to prove that Waldron is innocent...even if it means having his assistant point a loaded gun at his head and pull the trigger in the middle of the courtroom.
  • Driven to Suicide: Paul Harris kills himself when Dave the reporter tells him he'll write about his blackmail in the newspaper.
  • Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: Sleep deprivation is used on John to get a confession out of him. He's so tired and desperate for sleep that he signs the confession they shove in front of him.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The case was never solved, but the film suggests a deranged man did it, but he meets his death soon enough.
  • Heroic BSoD: Harvey briefly enters into one after being blackmailed by Paul and accused by everyone of having some kind of ulterior motive for invoking "nolle prosequi".
  • Intrepid Reporter: Dave Woods, who works out before anyone else that Harvey plans to invoke "nolle prosequi", figures out that Paul Harris is blackmailing Harvey, and appears to even be the only one to realise the "true" (according to the film, at least) identity of the killer.
  • Jerkass: Paul Harris is a Corrupt Corporate Executive who attempts to blackmail Harvey into making sure that John Waldron is convicted of murder (which would have resulted in the death penalty), all for the sake of keeping his business afloat.
  • Mistaken Identity: John is mistaken as the killer.
  • Narrator: At the beginning, middle, and end in a documentary way even if it’s a fictionalized version of the events.
  • No Party Given: We hear a lot of the "reform" party taking a blow because of this case, but there's zero mention of Republicans or Democrats.
  • Noodle Incident: Of a kind. We never do learn exactly why Carla the waitress hates Waldron so much that she's almost willing to commit perjury. She implies that they'd been going out with each other and Waldron dumped her while Waldron claims that he was never interested in her in the first place...which also seems false given his initial reaction to seeing her during his interrogation. One assumes that there was a relationship but it ended very badly.
  • Oh, Crap!: Paul Harris as Dave passes him a note revealing that he knows about Paul's shady activities.
    • There's an epic mass one when Harvey positions himself in front of Waldron's loaded gun (being held by his assistant) in the courtroom.
  • Pet the Dog: It's a small thing in the long run, but after subjecting Waldron to what's implied to be several days' worth of sleep deprivation and interrogation, Chief Robinson carries Waldron over to a bed and carefully lays him down as he finally falls asleep. He also repeatedly expresses regret for resorting to such techniques and prevents the other cops from beating Waldron to produce a confession.
  • Police Are Useless: They can’t find the killer and eventually force a false confession out of an innocent man
    • Somewhat strangely, this ends up being both played straight and averted almost at the same time. The police arrest and hold Waldron without initially telling him why and resort to sleep-deprivation tactics to force him to sign a confession. However, it's also shown that the reason they end up convinced that Waldron is the killer is largely due to the unrelenting external pressure from both the press and the public to just name anyone as the killer and, as Harvey himself notes several times even as he's defending the man, the vast majority of the evidence (at least on the surface) did indeed point to Waldron being guilty.
  • The Scapegoat: Waldron becomes this to pretty much everyone for some reason.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: The best the seven witnesses could come up with to describe the murderer was that he was wearing a dark coat and a light-coloured fedora. Pretty much describing any man in the late 40s.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The psychologist present during Waldron's interrogation immediately denies that increased susceptibility to suggestion while mentally and physically exhausted has anything to do with this case at all...even when that wasn't the question asked of him.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Waldron displays one several times, most notably when he and his police escort are confronted by a lynch mob.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Waldron has clearly had a hard time of things since returning from five years of combat in the war; he is then arrested without initially being told why, denied legal representation, subjected to what's implied to be a days-long interrogation while being forced to stay awake which ultimately leads to him signing a murder confession while in a state of total physical and mental exhaustion. All the while virtually no one is willing to believe his claims of innocence, or if they do believe him then they're still willing to throw him under the bus anyway, largely due to various selfish reasons that have little to do with him. He even ends up almost falling into the hands of a lynch mob. Quite literally the only break he catches in the film is Harvey choosing to believe that he's innocent and becoming determined to prove it.
  • Unconventional Courtroom Tactics:
    • Harvey invokes ''nolle prosequi'' and is able to show how the case is weightless and without real evidence even though he is the prosecutor.
    • Harvey tests the gun in front of everyone to show that it was faulty and couldn't have been used to kill the priest.
  • What You Are in the Dark: This is effectively Harvey's reason for choosing not to prosecute Waldron for the murder, despite all the external pressure to do so, including the promise that it would lead to him becoming Governor. It's just that he honestly can't bring himself to help frame a man he genuinely believes is innocent.