From the vaults of 20th Century Fox comes another fine Noir - CALL NORTHSIDE 777. Produced for the studio by Otto Lang in 1948 it continued Fox's splendid policy of producing realistic semi-documentary style thrillers in the great tradition of their earlier and memorable successes "The House On 92nd Street" (1945), "Boomerang" (1947) and "Kiss Of Death" (1947). Although CALL NORTHSIDE 777 lacked the sharpness and depth of these three classics it nevertheless still managed to be an engaging, sublime and well defined thriller thanks in no small measure to the excellent cast (particularly those in supporting roles), the brilliant stark monochrome cinematography by genius Joe McDonald and the tight and taut direction by the faultless Henry Hathaway who had the year before gained universal acclaim for his work on "Kiss Of Death". Based on writings by newspaper man Charles Clarke CALL NORTHSIDE 777 had a beautiful screenplay by Jarome Cady and Jay Dratler.
Based on a true story the picture relates how the killing of a policeman in Chicago in 1932 led to the wrongful arrest and conviction of Polish immigrant Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) on foot of a dubious alibi and a dishonest identification. James Stewart is the reporter P.J. McNeal of the Chicago Times who is asked to investigate a newspaper advertisement placed by a Polish Charwoman offering $5000 for evidence that will get her son out of prison after 10 years of incarceration. McNeal at first thinks nothing of the assignment but when he meets the mother Tillie Wiecek (Kasia Orzazewski) and begins to delve into the case he finds little discrepancies and things that simply don't add up. With further exhaustive investigation - and against the steel will of the city authorities - he is able to prove by the obscure date on a newspaper in a photograph (blown up 140 times) that at the time of the killing Wiecek could not have committed the crime.
The acting is superb from all concerned! Jimmy Stewart is terrific as the crusading reporter. Fresh from his tremendous success in the brilliant "It's A Wonderful Life" the year before this was a new departure for the actor to appear in more serious roles. And with "Winchester 73" just around the corner he would soon embark on his greatest and most accessible characterization - the western hero. Richard Conte too is good as the wrongly accused Wiecek but quite fascinating are two women in supporting roles. Firstly Kasia Orzazewski is outstanding as the the anguished, pitiful and distressed mother. Her portrayal is sincere and heartfelt. Also excellent is Bette Garde as the lying and dishonest witness Wanda Skutnik. But missing is a scene that would show her being discredited. Pity they never thought of doing one! It would have been very satisfying! Another fault with the movie is the absence of a music score. Alfred Newman wrote a sturdy and dramatic Main Title and a soaring end title to close the picture but there is no music throughout the film and there are a couple of scenes crying out for some encouragement that only music can provide. It seemed a daft policy of Zanuck in the forties to restrict the use of music in Fox's pictures (the most blatant instance being "The Gunfighter" in 1950). Was he trying to save money? Who knows? However, music not withstanding CALL NORTHSIDE 777 is still a marvellous and engrossing motion picture and remains a timeless classic.
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