Based upon the true case of the murder of Father Hubert Dahme in 1924 "Boomerang!" is a dramatization of the case, changing a few things in order to turn this unsolved case into a worthy movie. Now these sort of movies which bring to life a true crime are genuinely interesting and "Boomerang!" is no different especially when the true story has the interesting aspect of the State prosecution believing the evidence was not sufficient to try the man who was accused of the murder. But ironically the actual dramatization of this true story is not as interesting as the subplots which focus on various pressures such as political, public and personal upon those involved to solve the crime. How much of the pressure depicted in the movie is true I don't know but it paints a very interesting picture of what could have happened.
Father Lambert (Wyrley Birch) was a popular man within in the community with young and old liking the kindly man of the cloth. So when he is murdered on a street corner there is a public outcry as they demand the police catch the killer, not easy when despite several witnesses the description of the killer is generic. With pressure mounting on Chief Harold F. 'Robbie' Robinson (Lee J. Cobb - Mackenna's Gold) they finally get a man, John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy - Day of the Evil Gun) who they believe is the killer and get him to confess. But as State's Atty. Henry L. Harvey (Dana Andrews - Laura) goes to prosecute, under pressure from politicians to get a conviction, he begins to question the validity of the witnesses, evidence and confession leaving him to decide whether he should try and prove an innocent man guilty or do the right thing.
Now for a movie which was made in the 40s "Boomerang!" does grab your attention very quickly as we see Father Lambert murdered, a gun pointed at his head as he stands on a street corner oblivious to the gunman standing just 6 inches away behind him. It is not gruesome unlike modern movies but gets across how shocking this murder was especially as we quickly learn that Father Lambert was loved and respected within the community. At the same time we do get a brief series of scenes which suggest a few people who may have motive to kill the kindly man of the cloth and in a way this is the movies one fault because it does linger on one person who could have done it.
Anyway having set the scene the story then focuses on the pressure, the political and public pressure on the police to find the man responsible. And each day which passes with them getting nowhere the pressure increases with Chief Harold F. 'Robbie' Robinson constantly being asked if they are any closer from reporters, the public, the politicians. You can honestly feel the pressure he is under especially when a newspaper starts mocking the police for their inability to solve the case.
This pressure then leads to what is another shocking scene because they do arrest a man and for 48 hours straight interrogate him, wearing him down to a point of exhaustion on the verge of collapse. Inevitably out of desperation he signs a confession that he killed Lambert, not fully with it anymore after a barrage of intense questioning. And it is shocking the relentlessness of this questioning, the sheer determination of all those involved to wear him down to the point of submission. You could even say it is a bit sickening because whilst there is no physical abuse the mental abuse he takes is far worse.
And then we have the court case with State's Atty. Henry L. Harvey supposedly there to prosecute John Waldron and he himself under plenty of pressure from politicians, businessmen and the public to get a conviction. Except we have Harvey as a man who doubts the validity of the evidence and the confession and so puts his career on the line by trying to prove the witness statements were weak and other evidence such as the gun used being questionable. It is not the most dynamic of court room scenes you will ever see but even so still entertaining for the way he basically destroys his own case due to his honesty. It means that what is most interesting about "Boomerang!" is all the pressure the various people especially the police and Harvey were under rather than whether he clears Waldron or not.
Because "Boomerang!" is all about the pressure it is also about the two men at the centre of this Chief Harold F. 'Robbie' Robinson played by Lee J. Cobb and State's Atty. Henry L. Harvey played by Dana Andrews. Cobb is on fine form as the Chief of police who despite being under plenty of pressure through out his career finds the constant pressure from everyone to catch the criminal intolerable. You get a real sense that Robinson himself is bordering on the desperate before they find Waldron.
And Dana Andrews gets across the equal amount of pressure as he finds himself pushed by those in politics to get a conviction even though he has doubts over the guilt of Waldron. In the scenes where he dismantles the evidence in court and comes to having to dismantle the confession you can feel the strain because it would basically make his friend Robinson's methods questionable.
What this all boils down to is that as a dramatization of a true crime "Boomerang!" is good but not spectacular. But as an examination of the various pressures placed upon the police and the lawyers when it comes to highly charged case it is fascinating and well worth a watch.
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