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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Call Northside 777 (1948)



Reviews and Comments

Call Northside 777 is a fascinating film that seems to be a precursor to All the President's Men, although here the stakes aren't quite so high. James Stewart plays a reporter who reluctantly covers a series of stories about an eleven year old murder. Two men were convicted for it and are serving life prison sentences. The mother of one of them has been scrubbing floors in the years since to try to raise enough money to offer an enticing reward for information that could lead to her son's release from prison.

Intrigued by the mother's dedication -- but not at all convinced of her son's innocence -- Stewart does a little digging. I needn't tell you where the story goes from there, but it gets there in a fascinating way. What I particularly liked about Call Northside 777, which couldn't be done today at all, is its innocence. Certain plot elements -- even the climactic end -- are comprised of what we recognize to be tired cliches now. But they weren't cliches back then, and it shows. They're covered more thoroughly, for audiences who aren't familiar with these cliches, and the end result is that even viewers today will find something novel and intriguing about them. One good scene, which is unfortunately marred by Richard Conte's overacting, involves the taking of a lie detector test. The administrator of the test in the film is actually the real-life inventor of the machine.

Stewart is fantastic in the lead role. There's an effective partnership between his performance and the story -- his easy charm draws us into the film from the start, and the story carries us through it.