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. McNeal to look into the case. For some time, McNeal 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>
The man administering the polygraph test to convict Richard Conte was the actual inventor of the polygraph or lie detector machine, Leonarde Keeler. He plays himself in the movie. See more »
Continually throughout the film, McNeal incorrectly refers to Springfield and Joliet as "up there", when really these cities are southwest of Chicago. Then, when visiting Springfield, he incorrectly refers to Chicago as "down there" while Chicago is really to his north. This is the opposite of how Illinoisans would refer to these areas. Springfield and Joliet are south of Chicago and are always referred to as "down there" or, more often, "downstate," from a Chicagoan's point of view. When visiting Springfield, you'd go back "up" to Chicago. Illinoisans' terminology of "up there" and "down there" always respectively follow the north and south directions of the map. In addition, when Kelly says he stopped at the prison outside Joliet while on his way to Decatur, McNeal suggests this is just an excuse as Decatur is in the opposite direction; in fact, Decatur is in central Illinois, and Joliet would indeed be on the way there from Chicago. See more »
What's the matter, won't the pieces fit together?
*Some* of them, but they make the wrong picture.
Pieces never make the wrong picture. Maybe you're looking at them from the wrong angle.
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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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