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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He don't do this thing., August 2, 2005
This review is from: Call Northside 777 (Fox Film Noir) (DVD)
A poor woman, Tillie Wiecek (Kasia Orzazewski), runs a newspaper ad offering $5000 for the capture and conviction of the men who killed a Chicago policeman over a decade ago (`Call Northside 777.) Her son Frank (Richard Conte) was tried, convicted and sentenced to 99 years for the murder, but she's convinced of his innocence. City Editor Brian Kelly (Lee J. Cobb) reads the article and assigns beat reporter P.J. McNeal (James Stewart) to investigate the story. There are angles to be played.

And played they are. They liked to rip `em from the headlines back then, too. CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948) is an old school docu-drama, one of a number to emerge in the immediate post-war era. Armed with lighter cameras and faster film stocks, steeled with a passion for location and a love of verisimilitude, these movies boldly left the dressed set for the dirty street. In this case it's the Polish ghettos and the grimy prisons of broad-shouldered Chicago that are surveyed. Stewart, in one of his first non-boy ingenue roles, is given a chance to play a skeptic, an ambitious assignment reporter with a deep well of cynicism and an eye for the angle. Films like CALL NORTHSIDE 777 not only open with a title card telling us "This is a true story," they emphasize that all important point by assuring us that `real locations were used whenever possible.' The movie opens with an extended montage of Chicago from the Great Fire (I think that one, at least, must have come from a reenactment in another movie) to the Prohibition era, replete with Chicago's finest smashing casks of bootleg hooch and brief newsreel footage of such real-life notorati as John Dillinger and Al Capone. All this preface material blends seemingly seamlessly into the movie proper.

Stewart was always a relaxed and easy-going actor. The understated, naturalistic approach this movie takes suits him well. In fact, the highlights of the film are the scenes he shares with Kasia Orzazewski, who seemed to have little more to offer than naive sincerity. Understatement is the key word here, though, and Orzazewski's lack of actress-y affectations adds, rather than detracts, from things. Lee J. Cobb and Richard Conte come off well, too. I should mention poor Helen Walker, who plays Stewart wife and gets maybe ten minutes of screen time. She's more or less a sounding board, a film contrivance who's there only to give Stewart someone to share his humanizing doubts with. As James Ursini and Alain Silver point out on the commentary track - a pretty good one, although Ursini has an annoying habit of dropping his voice to a hard-to-hear whisper at the end of sentences - the Production Code forced the McNeals to sleep in separate twin beds. What they don't mention, at least I didn't hear it, was the rather anti-Code exposé of police corruption the movie investigates.

Also, as Ursini points out, this movie loves technology. Photo transmitting gizmos, miniature cameras, and sophisticated telephone relay stations are all lingered over. Most glaringly there is a really, really long polygraph session scene that features the non-actor inventor of polygraph technology Leonarde Keeler. It probably came across as cutting edge back then, but it reads `quaint' today. In fact, it's yet another `new' technology that director Henry Hathaway spends a good thirty minutes building up to that provides the vital piece in the movie's resolution. I won't give it away, but the `evidence', the one that the movie is so proud of, is totally bogus! If I was one of the half-dozen or so attorneys crowding into the frame during that nearly final scene I'd have been sputtering outrage. Still, it didn't quite wreck things for me. In fact, I loved CALL NORTHSIDE 777 as much for its flaws as I did for its strengths. It's not perfect or even all that convincing, but it gets a strong recommendation nonetheless.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 2, 2012 8:39:45 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 2, 2012 10:08:32 AM PDT
Being a scientist technologist that does research in a laboratory and then develops that technology for widespread use (research and development, or, "R & D", a term being lost in our nation) I do not view negatively (no pun intended) the emphasis on the technology aspects of this film as you do. Are you forgetting the year this was made? For kids today, they can see in an abbreviated form, essentially, the first use of a "fax" machine........transmitting data over a phone line. Archaic at best but fascinating. I loved all the technological aspects of the film. Also, I believe the film universally portrays human nature, the mother's devotion, the finger woman's Wanda Skutnik stubborn denial, the practicality of the wife remarrying to care for her son. The portrayal of the South Side of Chicago, many vignettes of Jimmy Stewart walking those streets. As a former Chicago resident, the historical perspective is fascinating to me. Also, in context, there is no death penalty in Illinois any longer. They were the first state to realize mistakes were made with inmates on death row and they were executing innocent people. As Jimmy Stewart says at the end of the movie: "The sovereign state admitted an error, that does not happen very often". I could use this movie in a high school civics course today if that course were taught anymore. Also, your review denigrates the "Lie Detector" which is one of the best scenes in the movie
from a couple of perspectives. Firstly, this new technology at the time was extremely important as emphasized in this scene. It may seem "quaint" now, but view it in the context of its time. Jimmy Stewart's boss editor drives way out of his way on some lame excuse/ruse which Jimmy Steward calls him on to observe this new technology. Also, the test, is referred in the movie more than once as a "lie test" whereas, today, we refer to it as a "lie detector test". We insert another word in our idiom today, of interest linguistically. Also, the lie test inventor gives us a brief theology lesson in Catholicism in this scene regarding the view of a Catholic on marriage. Very important aspect of the scene and reference to Catholicism in Tillie Wiecek's modest apartment, a prominent statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The movie is about faith. Also, think about the scenes of newspaper production. Most people under 20 years of age today do not know what a newspaper is let alone how it is produced. Firstly, the clickety clack of the typewriter James Stewart types on, the dropping of typeset into a printing press, and the rolling off of sheets of newspaper with print and photos on them. Historical perspective, again.

Posted on Jun 25, 2014 11:57:17 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 26, 2014 8:48:50 AM PDT
There was a similar event occurred in Conn in the 1920s.
"During the period from 1914 to 1924, Cummings served as the state attorney for Connecticut in Fairfield County and during Cummings' last year as county prosecutor, a vagrant and discharged army soldier, Harold Israel, was indicted for the murder of Father Hubert Dahme, a popular parish priest, on a street corner in Bridgeport.[1] Despite evidence that included a confession and a .32 revolver in possession of the suspect from which a fired cartridge was consistent with the bullet in the deceased, Cummings conducted a thorough investigation and eventually found Israel innocent of the crime. In 1931, the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (the Wickersham Commission) praised this act, with a 1947 film Boomerang! (directed by Elia Kazan) dramatizing the affair."
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