Call Northside 777
Call Northside 777 is a 1948 reality-based film noir directed by Henry Hathaway and starring James Stewart. The picture parallels a true story of a Chicago reporter who proved that a man in prison for murder was wrongly convicted 11 years before. The names of the real wrongly convicted men were Majczek and Marcinkiewicz for the murder of Chicago Traffic Police Officer William D. Lundy.
|Call Northside 777|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Henry Hathaway|
|Produced by||Otto Lang|
|Written by||Leonard Hoffman|
|Screenplay by||Jerome Cady|
|Based on||1944 Chicago Daily Times articles|
by James P. McGuire
Jack McPhaul -- writer
Lee J. Cobb
|Narrated by||Truman Bradley|
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Edited by||J. Watson Webb Jr.|
|Distributed by||Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation|
|Box office||$2.7 million (US rentals)|
Stewart stars as the persistent journalist and Richard Conte plays the imprisoned Frank Wiecek. Wiecek is based on Joseph Majczek, who was wrongly convicted of the murder of a Chicago policeman in 1932, one of the worst years of organized crime during Prohibition.
In Chicago in 1932, during Prohibition, a policeman is murdered inside a speakeasy. Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) and another man are quickly arrested, and are later sentenced to serve 99 years imprisonment each for the killing. Eleven years later, Wiecek's mother (Kasia Orzazewski) puts an ad in the newspaper offering a $5,000 reward for information about the true killers of the police officer.
This leads the city editor of the Chicago Times, Brian Kelly (Lee J. Cobb), to assign reporter P.J. McNeal (James Stewart) to look more closely into the case. McNeal is skeptical at first, believing Wiecek to be guilty. But he starts to change his mind, and meets increased resistance from the police and the state attorney's office, who are unwilling to be proved wrong. This is quickly followed by political pressure from the state capital, where politicians are anxious to end a story that might prove embarrassing to the administration. Eventually, Wiecek is proved innocent by, among other things, the enlarging of a photograph showing the date on a newspaper that proves that a key witness statement was false. In actuality, innocence was determined not as claimed in the film but when it was found out that the prosecution had suppressed the fact that the main witness had initially declared that she could not identify the two men involved in the police shooting.
- James Stewart as P.J. McNeal (based on real life reporter James McGuire)
- Richard Conte as Frank Wiecek (based on real life convict Joseph Majczek)
- Lee J. Cobb as Brian Kelly (based on real life editor Karin Walsh)
- Helen Walker as Laura McNeal
- Betty Garde as Wanda Skutnik (based on real life witness Vera Walush)
- Kasia Orzazewski as Tillie Wiecek (based on real life mother Tillie Majczek)
- Joanne De Bergh as Helen Wiecek
- Michael Chapin as Frank Wiecek Jr.
- Howard Smith as K.L. Palmer
- Moroni Olsen as Pardon Board Chairman
- J.M. Kerrigan as Sullivan
- John McIntire as Sam Faxon
- Paul Harvey as Martin J. Burns
- George Tyne as Tomek Zaleska (based on real life convict Theodore Marcinkiewicz) (uncredited)
- Leonarde Keeler as Himself - the actual inventor of the Polygraph (uncredited)
- E. G. Marshall as Rayska (uncredited)
- Thelma Ritter as receptionist (uncredited)
- Lionel Stander as Corrigan – Wiecek's cellmate (uncredited)
- Truman Bradley as the narrator (uncredited)
- Samuel S. Hinds as Judge Charles Moulton (uncredited)
It was reported on Jan 24, 1947, that, according to the studio, the picture would be filmed in the documentary manner. Fox had obtained the necessary legal clearances from the persons involved in the story and had dispatched Otto Lang, producer, and Leonard Hoffman, writer, to Chicago to gather material for the film. Eventually, Quentin Reynolds and Jay Dratler joined Hoffman in writing the script.
Casting the film proved complex. According to Mar. 7 report in The New York Times, Twentieth Century-Fox had named Henry Fonda to play the newspaper reporter in "Call Northside 777", which would precede "Chicken Every Sunday" and "Loan Star Preacher" on Fonda's schedule. However, after a month, another report pointed out that Fox had named Fonda for a leading role in the screen adaptation of Elizabeth Janeway's novel, "Daisy Kenyon", which necessitated Fonda's replacement in "Call Northside 777". Two months later, another report said that Twentieth Century-Fox was "negotiating for the services of James Stewart for the leading role in 'Call Northside 777'." Lloyd Nolan was originally named to play the role of Brian Kelly, but Lee J. Cobb replaced him in the end. Leopoldine Konstantine was originally scheduled to play the wrongly convicted man's mother, but in the end the role went to Kasia Orzazewski.
For an episode of CBS Radio's "Hollywood Sound Stage", broadcast December 27, 1951, Harry Cronman adapted and directed a condensed 30-minute version of the film, casting Dana Andrews and Thomas Gomez in the leads. Tony Barrett, Bob Sweeney, Betty Lou Gerson, and Frank Nelson played supporting roles.
The April 17, 1951, audition episode of the radio program "Defense Attorney" (then titled "Defense Rests") starring Mercedes McCambridge was based on the same plot, with some modifications.
The film received mostly positive reviews when it was first released, and again when it was released on DVD in 2004. In 2004, the Onion AV Club Review argued that the film may not be a true film noir, but is good nonetheless: "Outstanding location shooting and Stewart's driven performance turn a sober film into a vibrant, exciting one, even though the hero and the jailbird he champions are really too noble for noir." The website DVD Verdict made the case that the lead actor may be the best reason to see the film: "Its value exists mainly in Stewart's finely drawn characterization of a cynical man with a nagging conscience."
"By far the best documentary-style movie yet... Hands down the most expert, informative, gripping, and develops the most substantial audience rooting interest of them all"---AGER, PM.
"Calls for three cheers from every working newspaper man and, for that matter, for at least two from every moviegoer."---CREELMAN N.Y Sun
- Writers Guild of America: WGA Award; Best Written American Drama, Jerome Cady and Jay Dratler; The Robert Meltzer Award (Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with Problems of the American Scene), Jerome Cady and Jay Dratler; 1949.
"Call Northside 777" was advertised in a novel manner by the Valerie Theatre. The manager picked at random numbers from the phone book. If the party called answered by saying "Are you calling Northside 777," free tickets to see the show were given.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
- Call Northside 777 on IMDb.
- "J. Majczek; wrongfully imprisoned," Chicago Tribune obituary, June 1, 1983, p. B4.
- Dave, Hiren B. (2019-04-16). "Tribute: Director Ravindra Dave, who was 'Ravinbhai' in Hindi films and 'Bapa' for Gujarati cinema". Scroll.in. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
- Murray, Noel Archived 2007-03-11 at the Wayback Machine. Onion AV Club Review, film review, March 29, 2005. Accessed: April 5, 2008.
- DVD Verdict Archived 2006-02-08 at the Wayback Machine. Film review, 2005. Accessed: April 5, 2008.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Call Northside 777.|
- Call Northside 777 on IMDb
- Call Northside 777 at AllMovie
- Call Northside 777 at the TCM Movie Database
- Call Northside 777 at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Joseph M. Majczek legal case at Northwestern University School of Law
- on YouTube
- More follow-up on `Call Northside 777'