based on real life events, the story follows a newspaper reporter (stewart) who seeks to find the truth behind an 11 year old murder case. the wrongly accused’s mother puts out an ad for a reward of $5000 for any information leading to the actual murderer in her son’s case. stewart is skeptical at first, but pursues the case at his editor’s behest.
the film has a realistic look to it, in part because of hathaway using real locations (the prison, in particular, was impressive). in fact, imdb.com says it was the first film to be shot on location in chicago. the film also uses the actual inventor of the lie detector test during the filming of the scene where the wrongly accused man takes the test. there’s another scene in the film which involves a primitive photo fax machine which is pretty nifty even looking back on it now. any time a film shows the process of something like that it makes it more realistic, and interesting, for me. mann does this in his heist films and i think they benefit from it.
stewart worked with three major directors (capra, mann and hitchcock) and had (at least) three major personalities. it’s a tough call to say who the greatest american actor is, but i think you have to take a hard look at stewart as one of the best. bogart, of course, belongs there as well.
call northside 777 falls into the docu-noir genre along with films like he walked by night and kansas city confidential which take real life cases and dramatically recreate them. toward the end call northside plunges into the noir aesthetic, but it only does this when stewart is forced underground to look for a key witness. during these scenes the cinematography is quite good – ceilings look lower because only the bottom 6.5 feet of a room are lighted, shadows are heavy, boris (the witness’ boyfriend) is shown only in slivers of light, etc. it’s your typical noir stuff and that’s a good thing. the end of the film is typical noir in that “justice” is served, but atypical in that most noir follows the criminal as a sympathetic character; in this film the sympathetic character starts as a wrongly accused criminal and is set free in the end. in this sense it’s a happy ending which, again, is atypical of much film noir. though the ending is a good one, it is not saccharine or overdone. hathaway plays it fairly straight and lets the audience fill in the emotional blanks rather than having the music swell and ending with a crane shot. worth watching if you’re a stewart or film noir fan. i’m both.