In the frame

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Gradually overcoming my foolish Elia Kazan aversion — based on his politics/ethics, not his movies, so I’ve just been robbing myself, really — and ran BOOMERANG! (1947), a wackily titled courtroom/political drama from Fox, recklessly elaborated from a true story. Ambitious D.A. Dana Andrews (but the D.A. stands for District Attorney, you see) builds up a perfect case against a drifter (Arthur Kennedy, young but already rodent-like) accused of murdering a priest — ballistics, eye-witnesses, a destroyed alibi and a confession, but then, since he’s a painfully honest man, he risks his whole career by trying to dismantle the evidence, which proves shakier than first assumed.

These corruption dramas are always double-edged things. The old Hollywood model has to show the system working, both to confirm our faith in society and to deliver the required happy ending. But one can be left with doubts. If not for the impeccable Jimmy Stewart in MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, the forces of corruption would surely win, and the movie makes it very clear that Stewart/Smith is an unusual individual, therefore can we not assume that corruption wins most of the time? So with Andrews here. Kazan can be assumed to have meant more criticism of the status quo than Capra ever would. Here, the newly elected reform politicians are shown to be as capable of shady dealings as the villain they ousted — some are prone to “noble cause corruption,” believing that basically any course they take is justified if it gets them re-elected so they can carry out more reform. One, played by the turtle Ed Begley, blatantly has his fingers in the till.

(I think SERPICO marks a significant point — corruption is seen as so entrenched that a single honest man CANNOT reform the system.)

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The usual suspects: Arthur Kennedy, number 5, but in a surprise cameo, Arthur Miller is rumoured to appear in one of the film’s lineups.

Another guest star: Gadge’s dad uncle, as an incompetent witness. Runs in the family?

There’s some corny stuff in here, corny but fun. Sam Levene plays a hardboiled newspaperman with as dopey sidekick. Andrews indulges in ludicrous courtroom theatrics that make you applaud, like having a loaded gun aimed at his own head, the trigger pulled (yeah, probably more lawyers should do this); when a stooge tells the baddie “It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” the baddie replies, “I know.” A jilted dame testifies against the hapless patsy out of sluttish pique. Lots of cornball stuff, and filming on location doesn’t diffuse that, though the occasional reverberant sound in the background testifies to the existence of a world outside the frame.

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More valuable is the strong cast, with Kazan regulars Lee J. Cobb and Karl Malden in evidence. Cobb as the police chief, more muted than usual, is rather wonderful. He uses sleep deprivation to torture a confession out of his man, but refuses to use violence. He has a conscience, up to a point. There’s no evidence that he lets politics influence his performance of his duties. But like a lot of flawed cops, once he sells himself on a man’s guilt, he can justify almost any action to get a conviction. At that point, an innocent man’s denials become lack of contrition, and the further he goes the more committed he is to proving a supposition rather than investigating a case.

So the social critique is quite smart — only the script’s need to roll everything into a neat ball, and to amp up the dramatics, compromises its credibility, so that you pretty much KNOW watching it, “Well this wasn’t part of the original true story… nor this…” Still, it’s a strong piece of Hollywood product — like is Kazan and Zanuck got into a telepod together and what came out was… Kazanuck!

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10 Responses to “In the frame”

  1. There’s nothing “foolish” about it. The whole problem with Gadge is that he’s actually talented. Hollywood is filled with treacherous sons of bitches, but few of them have anything to offer artistically. Boomerang is indeed a lot of fun. It clearly indicates he’s got something going on. What he actually HAS going on isn’t to be found in On the Waterfront, that scuzzy right-wing, anti-union screed brought to life by Brando’s sex appeal (he was the Joe Dallesandro of his day) but rather in A Face in the Crowd (Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal bringing Schulberg’s prescient paranoia to life ), Splendor in the Grass (William Inge aided and abetted by Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood), Wild River (be sure to read marguerite Duras on that one. America America (in which Stathis Gillais says the ultimate Gadge line: “Don’t trust me”) and The Arrangement (Warner Bros. hires Gadge to direct his own best-seller) are quite good, but his last film The Visitors finds him reverting to the right-wing hysteria that’s all former Trotskyite’s stock-in-trade. Appropriately it’s the debut of James Woods.

  2. Early Kazan: Gadge’s own one-line review of Sea of Grass was “Don’t see it.” So I might. And I’m keen to try A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. But I’ve been saying that for at least ten years.

    Ashamed at how few of the above I’ve seen. Waterfront, yes, and The Arrangement. Much to be going on with.

  3. I saw The Arrangement the day it opened in New York at a theater on the east side. it was the very first show and Alain Resnais and Florence Malraux were sitting next to me. When it was over Florence said “Well, shall we go?” to which Resnais replied “No — we’re going to sit here and see it again!”

  4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is really good — deeply moving. You will cry.

  5. Having seen James Dunn manically grinning through all those pre-codes, and just KNOWING he was covering up tragic desperation and need, I am prepared to be devastated.

  6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is just wonderful, and I speak as one of those former children, girl division, who read the book to death back in the day. Peggy Ann Garner, James Dunn, Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, all fantastic.

  7. Joan Blondell is reason enough to see it, but I’ll third the recommendation. It has sentimental characters but the movie itself doesn’t endore their sentimentality. There’s also a good harrowing birthing scene. It’s funny that outside of horror movies, the terror of giving birth is usually played for laughs.

  8. Wow, OK, I think we’re sold.

    Tonight’s viewing, by contrast, is Such Good Friends, in which Sam Levene turns up AGAIN.

  9. The screenplay for Such Good Friends was written by Elaine May. But Otto tampered with it so she changed her billing to “Esther Dale”

  10. Chris Fujiwara seems to indicate that at the time, May only wanted her name on stuff that was entirely her own (she was just starting to direct). The script seems to have been *fairly* faithful.

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