Call Northside 777 (1948)

Call Northside 777 (1948)

“That’s the trouble with being innocent: you don’t know what really happened.”

Synopsis:
With support from his editor (Lee J. Cobb), a determined reporter (James Stewart) investigates an ad posted by a washer-woman (Kasia Orzazewski) offering $5000 for information that will help free her wrongfully convicted son (Richard Conte), who was falsely accused by a speakeasy owner (Bette Garde) of shooting a cop during Prohibition.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Falsely Accused
  • Henry Hathaway Films
  • Jimmy Stewart Films
  • Journalists
  • Lee J. Cobb Films
  • Murder Mystery
  • Richard Conte Films

Review:
Based on a real-life story that won Chicago Times reporter James McGuire a Pulitzer Prize, this semi-documentary film remains a powerful investigative tale of two men (only one, Joseph Majczek, is focused on here) wrongfully convicted of murder, and the journalist who gradually comes to believe in their innocence. It’s filled with plenty of realistic details — including filming on site in Chicago at actual locations whenever possible, and demonstration of how a lie detector machine works (by its co-creator!) — and features appropriately atmospheric cinematography by Joe MacDonald. Stewart and Conte are both convincing in their respective roles, and there are several notable supporting performances as well. This one remains worth a look.

Note: Watch and listen carefully for Thelma Ritter in an uncredited role as a secretary; you should be able to recognize her distinctive voice.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the cast

  • Joe MacDonald’s atmospheric cinematography

  • Effective location shooting

  • Many tense moments

Must See?
Yes, as an overall powerful film.

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One thought on “Call Northside 777 (1948)

  1. Yes, a once-must, for its solid place in cinema history. As per my post (7/23/20) in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “That’s the trouble with being innocent – you don’t know what really happened.”

    ‘Call Northside 777’ (1948): Based (apparently solidly) on a true story, ‘CN777’ opens with this statement: ‘This film was photographed in the State of Illinois using, wherever possible, the actual locales associated with the story.’ Roughly 20 years later, Richard Brooks would do the same thing in filming ‘In Cold Blood’. Though ‘CN777’ isn’t nearly as gruesome a murder story as ‘ICB’, the similar, documentary approach taken by director Henry Hathaway (‘Kiss of Death’, ‘Niagara’, ‘True Grit’) makes for a rather effective tale of justice. As the film progresses, it dips more and more into noir territory (even though the film itself stays closer to a police procedural). In one of his more-hardnosed roles, James Stewart plays a cynical newspaper reporter assigned by his editor (Lee J. Cobb, in one of his *less*-hardnosed roles) to dig into the truth behind a murder that took place 11 years prior and resulted in the conviction of the main suspect (Richard Conte). Concurrent with Stewart’s search is Hathaway’s own detailed search into (and unraveling of) the inner workings of newspaper outfits, certain police units and the justice system of the period. Events build to that very last and most essential piece of evidence. …In the film’s most thankless role (though she’s still noticeably good), Helen Walker plays Stewart’s wife. This was Walker’s first appearance after the highly publicized car accident that eventually derailed the career of this very talented actress (seen most memorably in ‘Brewster’s Millions’ and – just before the accident – ‘Nightmare Alley’).

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