Thursday, June 30, 2016
CALL NORTHSIDE 777
"Did it ever occur to you that everyone might be selling that dead cop short? He might have had a mother who scrubbed floors, too."
Chicago Times reporter P. J. McNeal (James Stewart) is assigned to look into an ad offering a $5000 reward for information about an old murder case. Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte), a small-timer, was convicted of shooting a cop and has spent eleven years in jail. His mother, Tillie (Kasia Orzazewski), who scrubs floors for a living, has saved up her money in the hopes someone will come forward with info that may exonerate her son. Initially skeptical, and told by his editor, Kelly (Lee J. Cobb) to keep the human interest story going to sell papers, McNeal eventually comes to believe in Wiecek's innocence and does all he can to overturn his conviction. Call Northside 777, which was based on real-life events, features solid performances from the principals (with especially good work from Orzazewski), as well as Betty Garde [Mr. Lucky] as Wanda Skutnick, the primary witness against Wiecek, and Otto Waldis [Unknown World] as her husband, Boris. Joanne De Bergh has a nice turn as Wiecek's ex-wife, but Helen Walker [Impact] has hardly any screen time as Mrs. McNeal. The picture is briefly stolen by an uncredited actress who certainly delivers in her role as a drunken barfly who gives McNeal much-needed information. The film builds up much suspense as it goes along, has interesting details (even if some are suspect), and a nice score by Alfred Newman. However, you're left with the nagging feeling that this new evidence might well mean Wiecek should get a new trial, but it doesn't absolutely prove his innocence!
Verdict: Real-life suspense story holds the attention. ***1/2.