Director Elia Kazan’s Third Film: “Boomerang”

Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Cara Williams, and Karl Malden
20th Century Fox, 1947, 88 minutes

Fox producer, Louis de Rochemont, creator of “The March of Time” theatrical monthly newsreels and father of the film noir genre, enlisted Elia Kazan to direct “Boomerang.” De Rochemont’s movies were filmed on location and included non-actors to help achieve a semi-documentary sense of realism. The experience of directing “Boomerang” would have a profound effect upon Kazan’s career.


A popular Roman Catholic priest, father George Lambert (Wyrley Birch), is murdered in cold blood on a busy street corner of a small Connecticut city. As days go by without an arrest, a daily newspaper controlled by the ousted conservative (Republican) party foments public indignation. Demands for the newly elected reform (Democrat) government to find the killer reach fever pitch. A suspect, John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy), is finally arrested and police chief, Harold “Robbie” Robinson (Lee J. Cobb), coerces a confession. As the district attorney, Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews), prepares to prosecute the case, he uncovers some disturbing evidence that seems to exonerate Waldron. A corrupt reform government official, Paul Harris (Ed Beagley), fears drawn out court proceedings will expose a pending illegal property deal and threatens Harvey to press for a conviction. While presenting the evidence against Waldron, Harvey defies all proper courtroom protocol (you’ll have to see it to believe it) to conclusively prove the accused wasn’t the murderer, prompting Harris to commit suicide. At the film’s conclusion, the audience learns from the narrator that the actual killer (a mentally unbalanced man who stalked the courtroom during the trial) was a victim of a fatal auto accident and that the honorable DA went on to become the United States Attorney General.


“Boomerang,” Kazan’s third film, was loosely based on the unsolved murder of priest, Hubert Dahme, in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1924. Filming was done in nearby Stamford rather than Bridgeport because of legal difficulties. “Boomerang” is often included in the film noir category although purists would object that it doesn’t meet all the criteria. This is a so-so story but the film is considered a significant step for Kazan because of it’s on-location, docu-drama realism. The cast is pretty good although leading man, Dana Andrews, plays his single pensive note throughout, looking most natural with a drink tumbler in his hand.  Jane Wyatt (“Father Knows Best”) portrays Harvey’s naive wife who serves drinks to “the boys” and little else. Lee J. Cobb is outstanding as the tough-as-nails police chief while corruption oozes out of every one of Ed Beagley’s sweaty pores. Cara Williams (baby boomers will remember her from the early-60s TV show, “Pete and Gladys”) plays an excellent femme fatale as Waldron’s ex-girlfriend. Sam Levene gives an entertaining performance as the wily reporter from the opposition newspaper. Yes, that’s playwright Arthur Miller making a cameo in a police lineup and Kazan’s Uncle Joe plays a small part as one of the witnesses. Numerous Stamford locals were featured in the film. Many of Kazan’s future movies would employ the on-location, docu-drama techniques he first utilized in “Boomerang” as he continued to move further towards realism.

The ending of this movie is quite unsatisfying. Everyone exits the courtroom applauding the DA for exonerating an innocent man, but they all seem to have forgotten that the killer remains at large. It’s also a bit unbelievable that Harris’s courtroom suicide didn’t seem to faze anyone after the gunsmoke cleared. Richard Murphy’s script was inexplicably nominated for an Oscar.

“Boomerang” is an indictment of both political parties for corruption and some have also suggested the film was Kazan’s thinly-veiled critique of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and its politically-motivated “witch hunts.” Kazan was eventually pressured to testify before HUAC as a friendly witness, earning the wrath of liberals throughout the remainder of his life.

The recently released Blu-ray edition of “Boomerang” includes two interesting audio commentary tracks; one from film noir historian, Imogen Sara Smith, and the other by film historians, Alain Silver and James Ursini.

Additional thoughts from a believer’s perspective

The priest’s murderer nervously watches the courtroom proceedings hoping Waldron is convicted in his place. When the case against Waldron collapses, the killer flees the courtroom in a panic.

We are all guilty of breaking God’s commandments and we all deserve eternal punishment. We can’t hide our sins from an omniscient and holy God. But God loves us so much He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay our sin debt on the cross of Calvary. Jesus rose from the grave, defeating sin and death, and offers eternal life and everlasting fellowship with God to all those who accept Him as their Savior by faith. Christ paid your penalty so you could go free. Will you accept Him as your Savior?

9 thoughts on “Director Elia Kazan’s Third Film: “Boomerang”

    1. Thanks, Carlene! And a belated Merry Christmas to you! Yes, the little gifts we give and receive are just little reminders of our Lord’s lovingkindness and graciousness to us!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Maria, I must admit it wasn’t clear to me whether the character was a Catholic or Anglican priest. I’m curious to know what was the clincher for you? I had done some research before I wrote the review and found that the actual murder victim, Hubert Dahme, was a Roman Catholic priest.

      Thanks for the thumbs up! I enjoyed writing that review and you remind me that I still need to review Kazan’s last 5 movies.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi, Tom! It was stated in the movie. One thing that seemed telling though was the way the priest dealt with the killer’s making confession to him. The script showed the priest threatening him with exposure if he didn’t go to a mental hospital. Now the interesting question is why did the filmmakers make him an Anglican priest? What a world! I will take the link to learn about the real story. Lord bless you, brother!

        The soul that sinneth shall die. Be sure your sin shall find you out. The Lord dealt with the killer.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Maria! Argh! Now I’m going to have to go back and quickly scan the movie because I’m a nerd that way. Yes, I agree that a Catholic priest would generally not threaten a penitent to divulge their crime to authorities. The murderer dying in a car crash was a contrivance used by the screenwriter and Kazan, but, yes, our sin will definitely find us out and thank the Lord for the imputed, perfect righteousness of our Savior!

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s