Acclaimed stage director Elia Kazan had only made a couple films before he tackled his first film noir -- 1947's Boomerang! -- for 20th Century Fox. Based on a real-life murder case that inspired Richard Murphy's Oscar-nominated screenplay, the film takes place in a small Connecticut town where a beloved priest is gunned down on Main Street, sending the whole town into an uproar. Almost from day one the citizens and the newspapers are on the backs of the police and city officials -- in fact, the editor of one paper effectively turns the story into a referendum on the reformers in power. This puts a lot of pressure on state's attorney Dana Andrews and police chief Lee J. Cobb, both of whom are anxious for a break in the case that doesn't seem to be coming until a drifter who matches the description gets picked up and is positively identified by the eyewitnesses. Something about the evidence doesn't sit right with Andrews, though, and he goes out on a limb to make sure that justice is done.
The film features Jane Wyatt as Andrews's not exactly long-suffering wife (their relationship is only slightly strained by all the brouhaha), Arthur Kennedy as the unlucky suspect who seems have the deck stacked against him, Sam Levene as a crusading reporter doing his best to stick it to whoever it needs to be stuck to, Ed Begley as one of the reform party bigwigs with a personal interest in the outcome of the case, and an uncredited Karl Malden as a police lieutenant who bears the brunt of Cobb's frustration. It also leans heavily on the stentorian tones of narrator Reed Hadley, who authoritatively sets the scene at the beginning of the film but refrains from explaining its somewhat arbitrary title. Andrews comes close a couple times when he's describing how hard it is for him to get a handle on the case, but maybe the filmmakers should have picked one that wouldn't be confused with an Eddie Murphy vehicle several decades down the road.