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W.S. Van Dyke
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In 1932, a cop is killed and Frank Wiecek sentenced to life. Eleven years later, a newspaper ad by Frank's mother leads Chicago reporter P.J. O'Neal to look into the case. For some time, O'Neal continues to believe Frank guilty. But when he starts to change his mind, he meets increased resistance from authorities unwilling to be proved wrong. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.
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