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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. 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 <email@example.com>
Powerful and Absorbing; 1930s True Story Makes a Good Reporter Yarn
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.
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