Call Northside 777 Movie Review
James Stewart seriously runs away with this movie. As skeptical reporter P.J. McNeal, he's tasked with writing a story about a convicted cop killer, 11 years after he's been put away for life. As he investigates, he slowly encounters piece after piece of evidence which exonerates the man -- yet the corrupt Chicago legal and police system won't hear any of it. Based on a true case in 1932, Call Northside 777 was also the first film shot on location in Chi-town.
The problem with the movie is that there just isn't enough juice in it to make for an interesting cinematic experience. It's the convicted Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) against the world: The conspiracy to put him away is a mild one that barely registers. He's just a patsy, pure and simple.
The bigger flaw is that 777 just doesn't work any more in the era of umpteen renditions of CSI and Law & Order that today's audiences are all too familiar with. The movie goes to extreme lengths to over-explain mundane criminal minutiae that we take for granted today, namely lie detector tests and, believe it or not, the process by which photos can be enlarged. The detective work Stewart's McNeal painstakingly goes through is easily in the grasp of today's fourth grader.
(Almost besde the point is that his gumshoe work is ultimately wrong. The big, final realization, which hinges on a blow-up of a photo so we can see the date on a newspaper being carried by a witness, is criminally flawed in its reasoning: Who can prove the guy wasn't carrying yesterday's paper?)
Plodding and cursory in its analysis of 1930s corruption, this is nonetheless an interesting historical set piece, anchored by the ever-dazzling Stewart, who may as well have put this on as a one-man show. He doesn't need to call anyone, as it turns out.
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