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  • Warning: Spoilers
    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.
  • In 1932 December, in Chicago, the Polish Wanda Skutnik (Betty Garde) runs a speakeasy during the Prohibition. When the policeman Bundy is murdered inside the illegal bar, Frank W. Wiecek (Richard Conte) and his friend Tomek Zaleska are arrested and sentenced to serve 99 years each in the Illinois State Penitentiary.

    Eleven years later, the Chicago Times' editor Brian Kelly (Lee J. Cobb) is curious with an advertisement offering a US$ 5,000.00 reward for information about the identity of the killers of the policeman eleven years ago. He assigns the efficient reporter P.J. McNeal (James Stewart) to interview the person responsible for the ad. McNeal discovers that Frank's mother Tillie Wiecek (Kasia Orzazewski), who is a janitor, has saved her salary for eleven years to prove the innocence of her beloved son and now is offering the reward for additional information. McNeal is skeptical and believes that Frank is a cop killer, but his matter is successful and Kelly asks him to investigate further. Soon he changes his mind and realizes that Frank is a victim of the corrupt system.

    "Call Northside 777" is an engaging movie about injustice and redemption based on a true story. The names were changed but most of the location is real. Movies of trial are usually attractive and James Stewart is one of the best actors of the cinema history. The result is a great movie directed by the also excellent Henry Hathaway. The only remark is the awful line of McNeal in the end of the movie: "Aw, look, Frank, it's a big thing when a sovereign state admits an error. But remember this: there aren't many governments in the world that would do it." Terrible way to admit an error that has cost eleven years of a man's life and made him lose his beloved wife and son. My vote is eight.

    Title (Brazil): "Sublime Devoção" ("Sublime Devotion")
  • Warning: Spoilers
    James Stewart is a reporter who becomes involved in an old murder case in "Call Northside 777," directed by Henry Hathaway and costarring Lee J. Cobb and Richard Conte. The film is done semidocumentary style, in black and white, and is based on a true story.

    Much of the movie is done in a low-key, realistic way, with most of the energy coming from Stewart. It takes us through, at some length, certain procedures, such as the administration of a lie detector test. But the movie isn't about that. It's about a reporter's passion for the unjust imprisonment of a young man, who at the time he takes up the cause, has been in prison for 11 years. His wife divorced him at his own request, and his mother has been scrubbing floors to make money to offer a reward. The viewer becomes very engrossed in the story along with Stewart.

    Stewart gives an excellent performance which hearkens back to "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" in a sense - the second half of the film calls for Mr. Smith's commitment, passion, and anger, and Stewart delivers. In the beginning, he's a cynical reporter who doesn't even want to do the story, and then as the facts emerge, he realizes there has been a gross injustice. What an actor. He's surrounded by strong performances from Helen Garde, Kazia Orzazewski, Cobb and Conte, who is very convincing as an innocent man.

    The most exciting part of the film is at the end, and here's where the spoiler comes in. To prove Conte's innocence, a very early version of a fax machine is used in the form of the AP wire, and it is suspenseful and fascinating to watch the increasingly enlarged photos come off the roll. The final moment, of course, as the last picture is developed, is thrilling. I had just one problem with the scene. The Stewart character is determined to enlarge the photo enough to see the date on a newspaper - when in fact, the headline would have been enough, as one could have gotten the date by researching the headline. It's a minor point. It's a great story and a wonderfully atmospheric movie, taking us into the seedy side of Chicago.

    Unfortunately, not has much has changed today in the justice system. If you have no money and no advocates, all too often what happened to Frank Wiecek is repeated over and over. But as Stewart tells Conte - I'm paraphrasing - "A state has admitted it made a mistake. That's no small thing. And it wouldn't happen anywhere else in the world." True enough.
  • This is a movie whose type later became familiar as "realistic crime-investigation narrative" primarily on the strength of a handful of films such as "the Lineup", "Kid Glove Killer" and this effort. It was in fact based on an actual 1932 case, we are told by historians, mostly on articles written by reporter James P. Mcguire. The one true thing said about the film by some of its recent reviewers is that the film benefits greatly--even looks modern to the 21st century eye--because it was filmed in the great city of Chicago and not on a Hollywood back lot. Solid director Henry Hathawy made use of unusual on-site lighting, locations and buildings to establish the milieu of the story-line in time and place. The plot line has one flaw, I suggest; I have seen it done as a TV one-hour drama and as this 111 minute feature, and it worked both ways for me because it features a straightforward "investigation" motif--a reporter trying to find out if a sentenced cop-killer is guilty or actually innocent. The flaw for me is the incredulity of the reporter before, during and long into his diligent and professional search for the facts in the case; anyone who knew anything about the police of the United States, Chicago especially, as they operated in 1932 and still operate today, would know two facts--that eyewitness identifications can, notoriously, be erroneously made; and that the justice system in the United States was then lacking in forensic sciences, politically corrupted and often set against minority-group defendants and suspects--conditions which have worsened in some respects since that time. Having said this, I add that the rest of the film is well-photographed, a good black-and-white, adventure, painstakingly presented. The script was adapted from the original articles as fictionalized biography by Leonard Hoffman and Quentin Reynolds, with screenplay by Jerome Cady and Jay Dratler. Cinematography by Joe Macdonald, music by Alfred Newman and consistent art direction by Lyle Wheeler and Mark-Lee Kirk, costumes by Kay Nelson and period set decorations by Walter M. Scott and Thomas Little all aid the realistic feel of this film very professionally. The body of the work comprises reports and arguments between a reporter, played ably by Jimmy Stewart, his editor --the powerful Lee. J. Cobb, and his wife, the attractive and capable Helen Walker, relative to his assignment-- finding out of Frank Wiecek was guilty of the crime for which he has served years in prison already. The case becomes an assignment for the ace reporter when he is assigned to investigate an offer of a reward for information leading to the man's exoneration; he finds out the offer of payment came from the man's aged mother who is scrubbing floors to feed herself and get money for this purpose. The case then turns on Stewart's ability to locate a missing witness, his growing belief in Wiecek's innocence and the use of a wire-photo, then a new and unusual technology, to prove that this star witness for the prosecution had been shown the accused--standard illegal police procedure--before she had made her original identification. In the cast besides Stewart who is charismatic, and very good though not ideal in the role, and Cobb and Walker, are many good actors. Kasia Orzazewski plays the mother, Richard Conte is good as Wiecek, Betty Garde is the elusive witness and Joanne de Bergh the wife who divorced the imprisoned Wiecek at his insistence. Among others in the cast are Moroni Olsen, George Tyne, Thelma Ritter, E.G. Marshall, Walter Greaza, Howard K. Smith, Samuel S. Hinds and Percy Helton. This is a deliberately paced and very realistic movie; it could have been done differently, but as noted above, my only reservation about its merits lies in the attempt to make the central character perhaps too annoyed at his assignment to be believable as a hard-boiled 1930s reporter a corrupt nation, city and legal environment. This is still a powerful and personal account of an injustice and how difficult it is in a bureaucratic country to right even the most obvious wrong. The film is memorable and often engrossing by my standards even today.
  • Based on a true story, "Call Northside 777" follows P.J. McNeal, a newspaper reporter played by James Stewart, as he investigates a decade old murder case. The setting is Chicago in the 1930s and 40s.

    Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) has been convicted of a cop killing and sentenced to 99 years in prison. Convinced of her son's innocence, Frank's mother, an elderly and lowly cleaning lady, takes out an ad in the newspaper for information that will help free her son. McNeal grudgingly looks into the case, but doubts Wiecek's innocence. As the film moves along, McNeal slowly changes his perception of Wiecek.

    Some viewers consider this to be a film-noir. To me, it is more of a docudrama, a staging of a real life story. The dialogue seems realistic. And the acting is low-key and credible. The film also highlights the technology of the era, including the use of the printing press, the polygraph, and a miniature camera.

    But what impressed me most was the use of the Chicago locations where the real life story took place. Further, the B&W visuals are appropriately drab, dreary, and depressing, which reflects the tone of the actual events. There's very little background music, which also adds authenticity to the film. The only downside is the matter-of-fact procedural style in which the story is told, especially relative to the fatherly VO narration at the film's beginning and end. The film comes across at times as dry, and lacking emotional depth.

    Devoid of cinematic hype, and told in a straightforward and plodding manner, "Call Northside 777" will appeal to people who seek realism in films. And, of course, the film's basis in fact, vis-a-vis fiction, adds to its credibility.
  • Call Northside 777 has James Stewart patiently trying to nail down enough facts to get Richard Conte a pardon from a murder for which he was falsely convicted. The tale is told in the documentary style that Henry Hathaway developed post World War II and that Darryl F. Zanuck used in several 20th Century Fox films.

    On orders from editor Lee J. Cobb, Stewart checks out the source behind a small personal advertisement in the Chicago Sun-Times where he works. The ad is placed by Richard Conte's mother who works as a cleaning woman and saved enough money to offer a reward of $5000.00 for information clearing her son.

    Back during the last days of Prohibition, Conte and another man were sent up for killing a Chicago policeman in a grocery store that fronted for a speakeasy. Conte was convicted mainly on the eyewitness testimony of the owner of the establishment Betty Garde.

    Stewart gradually comes to believe in Conte's innocence and works tirelessly on his behalf. The best single performance in this film is by Betty Garde. A real portrait in evil that one is.

    This has always been a film I've had an identity with. I had a similar situation in my former job with NYS Crime Victims Board. I had a case where a man sustained multiple injuries including the loss of a leg when a car drove up on a sidewalk and hit him. The report was never written up as any kind of crime, just an accident. The driver was given a summons and that was that.

    I did a lot of work to prove the police were wrong in their action and it took two years, but I gathered enough evidence and my claimant was declared a crime victim and received the benefits from my former agency. The perpetrator was never charged with anything, but that was not in my mandate. Nevertheless I know exactly what Jimmy Stewart had to prove and how hard it is. The police even more than most of us do not like to admit they are wrong.

    Call Northside 777 is a nicely done documentary style feature which is a great lesson in what a man with determination can accomplish.
  • The neighborhood in the movie was authentic. The church seen in it was my childhood parish church, Holy Trinity. In the movie, the buildings across the street from the church were torn down to build one-story apartments. Behind the apartments, the expressway was built. This happened sometime after the movie's debut.

    Like many movie goers, i find the use of neighborhood scenes crucial to the story line. The director did a fine job blending in the story line with the use of Chicago area footage.

    Richard Conte's portrayal adds to the quality of the movie. Never disappointing, Jimmy Stewart did outstanding work. With the support of fellow cast members and film crew, "Call Northside 777" is a movie worth seeing. Even a second time.
  • Call Northside 777 is a genuinely engaging film. It has reliable James Stewart as an investigative reporter on a story about an alleged cop killer in prison. At first he believes that the prisoner is guilty but then becomes convinced otherwise and is willing to risk his professional reputation on clearing him. The pace of the film is told like a gritty docudrama with no dramatic musical underscore for effect. But more importantly, this film is interesting to watch for a time capsule of post WWII Chicago. The Chicago Times, the police precincts, the ethnic neighborhoods that existed then and a whole sequence of a wireless photo copier. This is generations before the fax machine was ever conceived. This film is important as Stewart was beginning his maturing film roles in the postwar period and taking on good narrative stories and less goodguy next door roles which were going out of fashion.
  • telegonus5 April 2001
    This is the last, and in my opinion the best, of director Henry Hathaway's so-called 'numbers' trilogy (the other two are House 0n 92nd Street and 13 Rue Madeline, both badly dated now). It was made at the height of the so-called semi-realist or semi-documentary movement in American film-making, which was just peaking (and soon to decline) when this picture came out. Filmed on location in and around Chicago, it tells the story of a newspaperman who comes to believe in the innocence of a convicted criminal when the man's aged mother places an ad in the paper asking for information about the by now almost forgotten crime her son was accused of.

    At first cynical, the reporter comes to believe the man's story, and arranges for him submit to a lie-detector test, which he passes. In short time the hunt is on the one person who can help prove the man's innocence. This is a very gutsy film for its day, and along with the much inferior The Naked City, released at about the same time, it is the one that makes the best use of urban locations. We see a long-gone Chicago, a city of brick and cement buildings that echo with the footsteps of busy men in heavy overcoats on their way to the 'office'. It is also a city with a huge, almost underground immigrant population, which we see only glimpses of early in the film, but whose members take on increasing prominence as the story progresses. The last part of the movie, with the reporter taking to the streets in tough authentic Polish neighborhoods, contains some of the best, most evocative and sympathetic views of the streets, saloons and dingy walk-up apartments of the urban poor I've ever seen. No pity is asked for and none is given. This is simply the way some people live; by beer, boiler-maker, song and crude humor. There is warmth, too, in these tight-knit communities, with their air of familiarity and loyalty, their rules of conduct unknowable to the outsider.

    Hathaway is often seen as a plain, almost prosaic director, even at his best. In Call Northside 777 his steady journeyman hand is most welcome. He shows us an American city landscape quite different from what one normally finds in movies. We are in a terrain very much of the interior, the heartland, an America most easterners scarcely know of, its cities just as big and bustling as any on the Atlantic seaboard, but also quite different in tone, style and flavor. The film captures this aspect its midwestern city to perfection.
  • "Call Northside 777" is a well made crime drama shot in semi-documentary style. It benefits from a solid script, and tight direction (by Henry Hathaway). It also features a naturalistic James Stewart as a sharp investigative reporter; much of the success of the film is due to his thoroughly convincing performance. A fine support cast includes Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb and Helen Walker. What ages the film a bit is the now somewhat dated technology featured (a lengthy episode in which the lie detector is treated in detail, along with certain photographic reproduction and transference techniques). Yet, one can view these aspects as historically accurate representations, and enjoy the total production, which is on a commendably high level.
  • When a patrol cop is shot and killed, small time crook Frank Wiecek is tried for the crime and promptly sentenced to life imprisonment. Some 11 years on, tough cookie reporter P.J. McNeal gets involved with the case, the further he delves, the more he believes that Wiecek is innocent, but can he find evidence to back up his belief?

    Filmed in semi-documentary style by director Henry Hathaway, this James Stewart led noir thriller oozes realism from start to finish. It's actually the lack of gloss and glamour that is the film's trump card. Based on the real story of the Joe Majczek case in 1933, it's filmed perfectly on location in Chicago {where the actual events happened}, gloriously mood emphasised by Joe MacDonald's superb black & white cinematography, and scored with tonal adroitness by Alfred Newman. As intrepid Chicago Times reporter McNeal {based on real reporter Jim McGuire who was a Pulitzer Prize winner for his investigative efforts on this case}, James Stewart lays down a marker for the more edgier character roles that would follow for him in the 50s. Here he plays it perfect as McNeal shifts from mere cynical newsman to an outright crusader of justice; and it's riding along with McNeal that this human interest piece lifts itself to great crime thriller heights. Along the way we find problems are encountered and police procedural techniques are scrutinised. All may not be as it first seemed, and this mysterious element ices what was already a delightful docu-drama based cake.

    There is not much else to say, it's a film I personally highly recommend, a fascinating story that is given top care and attention from all involved, mean, moody and yes, magnificent. 8/10
  • Documentary-style and intriguing film based on facts about an unjustly imprisoned man . Actually, this film was based on a true story. Some elements, especially characters names, were fictionalized out of necessity, such as some central figures to the story were still living at the time of production, and had not given permission for their names to be used . It deals with a hard-boiled Chicago reporter P.J. McNeal (James Stewart) assigned by his publisher (Lee J Cobb) to investigate a strange information . As the cunning reporter finds himself in the crux of an important investigation uncovers new new clues in Wiecek case and unravels police cover-ups and missing evidence pointing to an imprisoned man's innocence . As he ferreted around until he found out the truth about a 12-year-old killing case . The journalist follows up a newspaper as offering 50000 dollars for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of a police killer . MacNeal right up to the ending agonising attempts to prove the innocence of of the inmate sent down for a killing he didn't do . The unjustly imprisoned for 11 years in real life was Joseph Majczek. After being released from prison in 1945, he worked as an insurance agent in Chicago. For his wrongful imprisonment, the State of Illinois awarded him $24,000, which Majczek gave to his mother Tillie. Majczek eventually remarried his wife with whom he had divorced while he was in prison

    Docudrama/thriller based on the actual facts about Joe Majczek and the Pulitzer Price winning reporter Jim McGuire who through a deep investigation , found enough evidence to have the case reopened . This is a thrilling picture , as you get completely absorbed in its vision , captivating every step of the way thanks to pacy filmmaking and awesome interpretations . Interesting as well as thought-provoking plot with an incident-filled script by Jerome Cady and Jay Dratler based on articles by James P. McGuire and Jack McPhaul . Very good acting by the great James Stewart as an obstinate journalist who slowly comes to realize that there was a miscarriage of justice . Secondary cast is frankly excellent such as Lee J Cobb , E. G. Marshall , Moroni Olsen , Charles Lane and Helen Walker as wife . First credited film role of John McIntire, who portrayed Sam Faxon and Thelma Ritter's role as the police captain's secretary was mostly deleted from the released print, but she can still briefly be seen and heard in one scene . And film debut of Kasia Orzazewski who portrayed Tillie Wiecek, mother of the second lead character of Frank W. Wiecek.

    Evocative cinematography in black and white by Joseph MacDonald .This film was photographed in the State of Illinois using wherever possible, the actual locales associated with the story. "Call Northside 777 ¨ (1948) was actually the very first Hollywood produced feature film to be shot entirely on location in Chicago . Many famous landmarks, such as the Chicago Merchandise Mart, Holy Trinity Polish Mission, and the Wrigley Building on North Michigan Avenue, can be seen throughout the film. Emotive as well as atmospheric musical score by the classical Alfred Newman . The motion picture was stunningly directed by Henry Hathaway . Henry was a craftsman who had a long career from the 30s with successful films , and especially Westerns , as ¨Brigham Young¨ and ¨Raw Hide¨ . In his 60s Hathaway still got the vigour to make some fiery movies as ¨From Hell to Texas¨, ¨How the West was won¨, ¨Nevada Smith¨, and ¨Shoot out¨ . Hathaway also directed Noir genre as ¨Kiss of Death¨, ¨The House on 92nd Street¨ , ¨Niagara¨, ¨23 Paces to Baker Street¨ , adventures as ¨The last safari¨ , ¨Prince valiant¨ , ¨White rose¨ , ¨White Witch Doctor¨ and other kind of genres .
  • An eyewitness to a cop killing sends a man to the pen for 99 years. Eleven years later the convict's mother offers 5 thousand dollars to anyone proving her son is not guilty. A newspaperman looks into the case and becomes obsessed with gathering information which he is convinced will exonerate the convicted man. Tense, dramatic look at the seedy side of life.
  • Julie-3013 November 2000
    Yes, almost every time I review a film, I say it's one of my favorites, but I tend not to review films I don't feel strongly about.

    This is a film I feel VERY strongly about. Jimmy Stewart is incredible, as always, in the role of a cynical newsman who is assigned to figure out what really happened in a 10-year-old murder case. I saw it years ago, well before fax machines existed, and was fascinated at how he figures out "the story behind the story."

    I make a point of watching it whenever it's on, and would love to see it released on DVD.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    After World War II, James Stewart appeared in two rather folksy, small-town comedy/dramas ("It's a Wonderful Life" [1946] and "Magic Town" [1947]), neither of which were quite the successes that he had hoped for. Following that, Stewart decided that he had to "toughen it up," as he put it, and "Call Northside 777" was a smart move for him. Author Gary Fishgall, who wrote the finest James Stewart biography in my opinion, accurately pointed out that Stewart gives one of his cleanest performances in this formidable crime drama; one is struck by the absence of Stewart's usual drawling vocal mannerisms. His character, Chicago Times reporter P. J. McNeal, has a certain doggedness about him, earnestly doing whatever he can in trying to free a man who spent eleven years in jail for a crime he did not commit: the murder of a policeman.

    The following are a few of my favorite moments from "Call Northside 777" (but please do yourself a favor and do not read any further until after you watch the film). During several early conversations with his editor boss Brian Kelly (Lee J. Cobb), McNeal expresses his disgust at having to tackle the assignment of interviewing the convict, named Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte), and some of his family; McNeal makes it understood initially that he does not believe one iota that Wiecek is innocent of the murder. Wiecek later becomes furious when he discovers McNeal's newspaper photographs and articles concerning Wiecek's family, since he wanted them all left alone; in fact, McNeal is astonished to learn that Wiecek does not care if he has to remain in jail a thousand years as long as his family is safe and unharmed. As McNeal searches desperately from bar to bar trying to find Wanda Skutnik (Betty Garde), the different snatches of music filtering through these various establishments are quite interesting. And near the end of the picture, McNeal takes the members of the pardon board to a police photo laboratory, where an enlarged photograph is developed and gives conclusive proof that Wiecek is innocent; as McNeal nervously watches the photo develop, his face lights up and he is elated when the fully-developed picture offers the proof he needs to show to the board.

    "Call Northside 777" was an excellent step-up for James Stewart, and after making a few more less-than-successful movies, he would make another hit with "The Stratton Story" (1949), after which he was back on top in the public eye.
  • A great evocation of a long lost cityscape. The underbelly of post war Chicago and its Polish community are portrayed beautifully, particularly when Macneil (Jimmy Stewart) is searching for the eyewitness who's testimony convicted Frank Wiecek. This is combined with a meaty story, told in a semi documentary style of a mother's devotion and a cynical hack's transformation to campaigning champion. Jimmy Stuart is excellent in this role, starting off disbelieving the innocence of the ''Cop Killer'' Wiecek, gradually becoming convinced by the decency and defiance of Frank and his family. Macneil gets to give a rousing statement to the Pardon Board, and the use of technology in the denouement is interesting. The scene where Frank is released to meet his ex wife and son is truly touching. The only unsatisfying part to the movie is the neglect of the other wrongly convicted man, Tomek Zaleska, although if you read the message boards you will see why.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    CALL NORTHSIDE 777 is a great film, but it is essentially a murder mystery, not a "film noir."

    The film noir cycle dates approximately from THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) to the TOUCH OF EVIL (1958). So CALL NORTHSIDE 777 was made during the noir period, but is not part of the noir cycle in my opinion (see my reasons below).

    Plot summary:

    Jimmy Stewart plays a reporter who investigates whether or not a washerwoman who offered a huge reward in the paper to prove her son's innocence is to pitied or believed. After some initial skepticism of her story he decides to track down witnesses to find out what really happened.

    ***************SPOILER BELOW******************

    Eventually he finds her son to be innocent not via a witness but by using the printing technology of the time. The ending is quite effective so I will not spoil how he does it.

    ***************END OF SPOILER******************

    Regarding my contention CALL NORTHSIDE 777 is not a film noir --

    1)

    Typically a film noir treats the problems of American society found by vets returning from WW2, or other negative aspects of society in the 1940's and 1950's.

    Usually both the protagonist and the villain in a noir have a dark side, or are far from the ideals society nominally strived to maintain at the time. However the mere fact that a film shows that are dark elements of society who do bad things is not sufficient to make it a "noir."

    Essential to the noir style is the allegorical subtext that the actors represent how society itself has gone wrong, not merely a playing out of their own private evil. Murder mysteries, thrillers, shock films, mad slasher films, etc all show dark private evils, but as a rule lack such an allegorical subtext. Hence such films as a rule are not noirs, but belong to one of the related genres that contain violence at a very private level.

    Stewart has no obvious dark side in this film other than his brief hesitation to take on the case. The governor of the state could also be faulted for his indifference to the outcome, but a modern post-Watergate viewer typically has a low opinion of gov. officials anyway.

    Stewart does travel into seedy neighborhoods in the course of his investigation, but the film does not imply that "society" is what caused the crime he is tracking down, or that the whole of Chicago is similarly seedy.

    2)

    The film noirs made from 1940 to 1960 were usually shot in a very stylized type of black and white cinematography whose aim was to shot, disorient, or disgust the viewer. They were also usually shot on location -- the dirtier, the better.

    In many cases a strange disturbing musical score was used to heighten the effect that the film was not taking place on a typical Hollywood set.

    CALL NORTHSIDE 777 was shot on location in black and white, but uses neither jolting camera angles nor disturbing music. Many of the shots were of typical urban settings such a newspaper room.

    To conclude, CALL NORTHSIDE 777 is a must-see film due to Stewart's strong performance as a relentless seeker after Truth, and the many obstacles he has to overcome to find the truth in this particular case. However viewers expecting noir camera angles, spooky music, or psycho crooks should look elsewhere.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    *** WARNING: Possible Spoilers ***

    This is one of my favorite movies of all time. Henry Hathaway delivers one of his best efforts with fast-paced direction and his special ability to deliver emotional-yet-within-character performances from his entire cast. James Stewart does a marvelous job as a cynical reporter, at first unwilling to glorify a cop-killer, then coming to gradually believe in Wieczek's innocence, an undeterrable fighter for justice who comes to discover things he had taken for granted about the system. Lee J. Cobb is magnificent as his hard-boiled editor. Richard Conte steals the film in the scenes in which he appears as the embattled and embittered-yet-understated prisoner. But no scenes are as compelling as those featuring Philadelphia stage actress Helen Garde as shop-owner Wanda Skutnik. She captures the crucible of fear, anger, guilt, and defiant unrepentance of a hard-working immigrant unwilling to budge from her damning testimony.

    In fact, the true star of this movie is the Polish-and-Czech immigrant-populated section of the city of Chicago. Its feel and streets are perfectly captured. So is the relationship of these vulnerable residents with their police. The resentment of the police to Stewart's mission to free someone who they believe to be a cop-killer is well depicted without going over the top. The only false note struck in the entire movie is the miscasting of film-noir-evil-woman-deluxe Helen Walker, as Stewart's sweetly sentimental wife. But this pales beside all the memorable gritty-city scenes. The entire supporting cast gets veteran assistance by such stalwarts as Moroni Olson, John McIntyre, Charles Lane, and E. G. Marshall. The women playing Wieczek's mother and ex-wife are also quite memorable, as is the actor playing Tommy, Wieczek's alleged co-conspirator.

    As P. J. McNeil, Stewart delivers some unforgettable lines with profundity, such as "The sword of justice is double-edged. It attacks Frank Wieczek with one hand while cutting the foundation away from every piece of evidence that could be used to acquit him with the other.", and "It's a rare thing when a government admits a mistake..."

    I see in some of the reviews, many people who reference points are functions of today's values, and today's cinematic standards, cannot appreciate the immigrant-aspect of this film, and do not understand that what now seem to be cliches about policeman-killings were huge issues at that time.

    For my money, this movie depicts the essence of what America was truly about better than any other I could name. I've watched it 8 times in my life, and hope to watch it at least 8 more.
  • Call Northside 777 (1948)

    Henry Hathaway has several noir and noirish films to his credit, and this one is smack in the key, classic post-War noir period. But don't expect a thriller, or any of those great Mitchum or Bogart deliveries, or lots of moody night scenes with hard shadows, or a femme fatale of any kind. In fact, don't expect a film noir. Call Northside 777 is in some ways a very interesting film, but it's crime drama, and a surprisingly slow one, filled with talk and persuasion and almost no action, almost no suspense.

    It does have two first rate actors, the impeccable James Stewart who makes the most of this (and saves the film from mediocrity), and James Lee Cobb playing a news editor, a great secondary to Stewart's role as a determined reporter. The man in jail, Richard Conte, is also a sympathetic actor, better known for other crime dramas from the time, including Thieves' Highway, an underrated gem also starring Cobb).

    There is also the often mentioned documentary feel to the film, which might translate to the steady and factual way the scenes try to be realistic, step by step. This isn't really the best way to make a movie hum, and the events are told to us, generally, and the characters rarely have a chance to flesh out. Even the two leads are richly painted caricatures, really--it's just lucky they are both compelling actors.

    The photographic trump card played at the end is also a cheap stab. You can tell from the print they are working from that the date would never really become clear, not even a close call. But even more, they would have been able to tell what day the newspaper was published by the layout of the pictures, which are clearly visible in the newsboy's grip. A trip to the library would have solved that one.

    No one minds a tale of justice triumphing, and here it is. It's not a bad film, but drink some coffee first.
  • It's 1932 Chicago during prohibition. A policeman is murdered by 2 men in a speakeasy. Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) is sentenced to 99 years. Eleven years later, Frank's mother offers $5k reward in a newspaper ad for the real killers. Cynical reporter P.J. O'Neal (James Stewart) is assigned the story. He is pushed to dig into the case by his editor Kelly (Lee J. Cobb). He starts to change his mind about the case and gets pressure from the establishment.

    The based-on-a-true-story worked on me a little in this movie. With the matter of fact narration and the trusted face of Stewart, it becomes quite compelling. Stewart especially is the perfect guy for the role. His early cynicism is a great starting point. This is a compelling rip-from-the-headlines story led by a great actor.
  • This is a flawlessly filmed and directed look at 1948 Chicago. The acting is good....James Stewart playing his usual straight shooter down to earth corny blustery stammering when indignantly angry character.

    What it lacks is suspense and as another reviewer stated it missed a wonderful scene where the perjuring witness Wanda would be exposed.

    The denouement involves state of art technology of the time....wired photographs and enlarging techniques.

    What was needed was a more talented writer to come up with some suspense.

    It gets a solid 7.

    RECOMMEND
  • In Prohibition-era Chicago, a policeman is shot dead at a grocery store doubling as a speakeasy. Cop killer Richard Conte (as Frank Wiecek) and his partner are quickly rounded up. The main suspect can't remember if his wife was preparing cake with dates or walnuts. Positively identified by witness Betty Garde (as Wanda Skutnik), the men are sentenced to 99 years in prison. However, it is obvious Ms. Garde did not see the masked men. The only real witness is a mail carrier, who is oddly dispensed of in the script...

    Eleven years later, a classified titled "Call Northside 777" is placed in the "Chicago Times" by Mr. Conte's hardworking mother Kasia Orzazewski (as Tillie Wiecek). She has saved up $5,000 scrubbing floors, and offers it as a reward for information about the real killer. Nobody comes forward who can clear Ms. Orzazewski's son, but lying city editor Lee J. Cobb (as Brian Kelly) thinks the woman might make a good feature. He assigns the story to cynical reporter James Stewart (as P.J. "Jim" McNeal) and it is a hit with readers...

    Hoping to conclusively determine Conte's guilt or innocence, Mr. Stewart re-investigates the case with increasing enthusiasm. According to the opening, "This is a true story," photographed (by Joe MacDonald) in the State of Illinois using, "whenever possible, the actual locales associated with the story." There are some weaknesses concerning the evidence Stewart uncovers, and Conte's convicted friend is left in the lurch, but the story is compelling throughout. Garde and Orzazewski perform their nice and nasty women well.

    ******* Call Northside 777 (2/1/48) Henry Hathaway ~ James Stewart, Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb, Betty Garde
  • Betty Garde and Kasia Orzazewski's performances in this film go beyond acting. The rest of the cast are extremely good too but in a completely different way to Betty and Kasia. When Stewart as McNeal interviews Tillie Wiecek as played by Orzazewski, the contrast in acting styles becomes immediately apparent. European realism as opposed to stylised acting. No criticism of Hollywood actors or acting is intended. To be successful as a movie star, actors like Jimmy Stewart have to give a "Jimmy Stewart" performance. When an actor like Paul Muni left no trace of his own personality for the audience to discern, he forsook any chance of becoming Hollywood icon. He won an Oscar and was nominated for others but he is rarely remembered as being a star. Stewart is a staple of comedic impressionists but who could possibly do an impression of Muni that anyone could get?

    Betty Garde as Wanda Skutnik is a repulsive creature but one we can understand. She has lived a hard life and has survived by looking after herself. She will lie to the point of sending innocent men to jail if it means her survival. Her anger born of fear is palpable when McNeal tempts her with the reward money for changing her testimony. Her rage overwhelms McNeal and almost physically forces him to leave. There is a brutality in Garde's delivery that makes us believe she is not acting.

    Helen Walker lends genuine warmth to her portrayal of McNeal's wife. I am sorry that such a fine actress had so many problems in her life.
  • CALL NORTHSIDE 777 is a fascinating semi-documentary filmed in realistic style by Henry Hathaway and featuring a fine central performance by JAMES STEWART, as a newspaper reporter anxious to prove that an innocent man is still serving time for a crime he never committed.

    Others in the cast do their standard good work, including RICHARD CONTE as the wrongly convicted man, LEE J. COBB as a newspaper editor and E.G. MARSHALL. But most of the supporting players are no-names who give an authentic feel to all the minor roles, as does the fact that the film uses actual Chicago locations which gives the whole story an added flavor of realism.

    Although the ending should come as no surprise to anyone aware that justice will be done, getting the solution to an eleven-year old murder is what counts here. The manner of police detection may have changed considerably since the late '40s, but the film is a timeless example of corruption exposed and a man's brave efforts to exonerate an innocent man. Well worth watching.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Documentary styled film-noir based on a true life story. A cleaning woman offers a reward for information that may lead to her son's(Richard Conte) release from prison for the murder of a policeman over a decade earlier. A Chicago reporter(James Stewart)is asked by his editor(Lee J. Cobb) to investigate this human interest story; and he ends up turning it into an expose of corruption in the criminal justice system. Well written and acted. Kudos to director Henry Hathaway. Stewart is powerful as the cunning reporter. Conte is a bit rigid, but yet believable. Other players: Kasia Olzazewski, Helen Walker, John McIntire and E.G. Marshall.
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