Call Northside 777 (1948) is based on a true story; that of Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte), a blue collar patsy who is framed for the murder of a police officer during the bad ol’ days of prohibition in Chicago. For eleven years Wiecek sits in prison – that is, until managing editor of the Chicago Times, Frank Kelly (Lee J. Cobb) assigns reporter, P.J. McNeal (James Stewart) to investigate a strange want ad.
Turns out Frankie’s mom, Tillie (Kasi Orzazaewski) never stopped believing in her boy. Working day and night to earn enough money to hire anyone who would reopen the investigation, the old woman’s undying commitment touches McNeal’s heart.
He begins his descend into the past by attempting to contact Wanda Skutnik (Betty Garde), the loose living floozy who fingered Frank in a line up. But the embittered and unscrupulous Skutnik won’t talk, leaving McNeal with just one option…and boy is it a long shot.
Director Henry Hathaway manages to infuse his ‘who dun it’ with considerable flair, even though the screenplay by Leonard Hoffman and Quentin Reynolds seems muddled at best. There are moments when tension in the investigation seems to start to grow, only to be defused by snippets of domesticated romance between McNeal and his ever-devoted wife, Laura (Helen Walker).
The over the top voice narration that champions America as a country where justice eventually prevails is maudlin and heavy-handedly inserted. As with Panic in the Streets the biggest mystery here is why Fox would choose to issue Call Northside 777 as a film noir. This is a detective thriller with serviceable merits. But it in no way can be classified as such.
Fox’s DVD is not very impressive.
Quality is below par, for either a film of this vintage, or for a DVD of present day standards. The gray scale is often poorly contrasted, with weak blacks and dirty looking whites. Edge enhancement and aliasing are present throughout for an image that, at times, is digitally harsh.Though certain scenes appear generally free of age related artifacts, others are riddled in a barrage of scratches, tears and chips.
The latter is more predominant throughout. Finally, the audio is not very well balanced. At times its fidelity is muffled. At other moments it is quite strident. The presence of background hiss throughout is disappointing. An audio commentary accompanies the feature but again, is rather dull and lacking in background history about the characters, actors or talent behind the camera.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)