A taut police-procedural thriller in the G-Men (1935) tradition, Elia Kazan’s Boomerang! (1947) is a complex and compelling portrayal of the ways politics and violence interrelated in post-War America. Made in the year of the first series of HUAC hearings, it’s a conflicted movie – Dana Andrews’ state attorney is first willing to join the mass hysteria and convict a man charged with murdering a local preacher: even though evidence is dubious and the incriminating statement was clearly induced by psychological torture. Andrews plays an ultimately benign authority figure, willing to commit to a just cause as soon as he recognizes it as such. But what’s one left with, is the overwhelming sense of corruption running deep in American power structures – as embodied by Lee J. Cobb’s stubborn and spiteful mug, as he confesses (falsely, but honestly to his mind) that the accused confessed guilt “of his own will without any violence”.
The movie doesn’t have the visual texture or moral complexity of On the Waterfront (1953) and it isn’t as franticly paced as Panic in the Street (1950), but I appreciate Kazan’s ways of stepping back from the conflicted crowd of characters, so that his movie truly becomes an austere snapshot of a society at large.