Thursday, October 2, 2008

BOOMERANG (2oth Century-Fox 1947) Fox Home Video

Based on a Reader’s Digest article by Anthony Abbott, director Elia Kazan’s Boomerang (1947) is a compelling indictment against small town political hypocrisy and the overzealous machinery of jurisprudence that fuels its need for a scapegoat. Cutting edge and controversial for its time, Boomerang provides a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of a man’s conscience. As with all Fox movies personally supervised by Darryl F. Zanuck, the film carries a social morality in its side purse of entertainment value.

When a beloved Connecticut priest, Father George Lambert (Wryley Birch) is gunned down on a public street the outcry for justice is both swift and immediate. Seven onlookers are certain they can identify the man responsible for the crime; a consensus that sparks a ‘witch’ – rather than ‘man’ - hunt for the perpetrator.

Eventually Police Chief Harold F. Robinson’s (Lee J. Cobb) men bring in John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy) as their suspect. Waldron’s failed affair with Irene Nelson (Cara Williams); a waitress at the Coney Island Café leads the unscrupulous Irene to side with these seven onlookers who have already made a positive I.D. on Waldron as the killer. Fueled by pressure from the local press, supplied by newspaper columnist Dave Woods (Sam Levene), and motivated by unseen politicized forces who have their own agendas in making the case stick, John Waldron’s fate rests on local prosecuting attorney, Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews).

Despite encouragement from local state officials including Mayor Swayze (Walter Greaza) and Public Works Commissioner Paul Harris (Ed Bagley), Harvey is a straight arrow who will not be swayed by the fickle authority of mob rule. Harvey’s wife, Madge (Jane Wyatt) agrees with her husband – though she adds that only he can decide for himself what is just and proper. To this end, Harvey decides to go it alone – against the advice of fair-weather friends and all the state’s evidence in order to exonerate Waldron of the crime of murder.

The screenplay by Richard Murphy is fraught with great tension and introspection; despite a rather heavy-handed voice over narration that intrudes mostly at the beginning and end of the story. Like other crime/noir thrillers from this vintage in Fox’s history (The House on 92nd Street, House On Telegraph Hill, Somewhere In The Night), Boomerang benefits greatly from its use of actual locations instead of sets. The exteriors add realism.

As he proved in Fox’s Laura (1944) Dana Andrews is the ideal sleuth. There is conviction to his gesture and credence to his posturing that make it all believable. Like a variation of James Stewart, Andrews plays Harvey as an ‘everyman’ – that rare solid citizen we would all like to place our faith and trust in with absolute certainty.

The rest of the cast, apart from Arthur Kennedy and perhaps Ed Bagley, do not quite measure up in either presence or purpose, but it doesn’t really matter. The story is true to life and compelling. Andrews’ central performance remains the necessary glue that keeps our interest alive throughout. Although the ending of Boomerang leaves the real killer’s identity something of an enigma, the film carries a very powerful message; one man against the odds can make a difference.

Fox Home Video’s DVD represents something of a curiosity. Originally slated for release over a year ago, the film was pulled at the last minute – presumably because of a rights issue – then re-slated for general release several months ago. It finally arrives on home video as part of the ‘Fox Noir Series’, its skewed cover art and numbering on the show box spine suggesting where in the line up it ought to have originally appeared. (Aside: Fox cover art for their noir series has long since adopted a full front cover design and no numbering).

It is important to note that early titles in Fox’s noir series were a hit or miss in terms of quality and Boomerang is no exception to that rule. Although this transfer is not the worst of the lot, it is hardly a concerted effort to bring the film to home video at a level of quality befitting the digital format. Video noise and slight edge enhancement are the biggest culprits in this transfer. At times the image can appear quite free from these distractions, though many of the exterior long shots are plagued by distortions in vertical and horizontal straight lines.

Otherwise, the B&W image appears adequately contrasted. Certain scenes hint at slight fading of the original film stock. Obvious grain is also an issue during several scenes, as are age related artifacts. The audio is generally smooth and adequately represented. The only extra worth mentioning is an informative audio commentary. For the rest, we get a theatrical trailer, minus its voice over and overlay of credits; more trailers for other Fox Film Noir and a brief stills gallery. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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