- Call Northside 777 review by Steve Mason
A rare film noir starring James Stewart. In 1948 Hollywood noir began to accommodate the kind of documentary naturalism pioneered in Italian neorealism. The most influential film in that style was Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948), but I prefer Call Northside 777 which is just as early in the cycle and a more suspenseful story with a knockout ending.
Based on actual events and sourced from newspaper articles, Stewart plays the reporter who, alerted by a mother's offer of a reward saved up through 11 years working as a cleaner, uncovers a miscarriage of justice which resulted in her innocent son and another being sent to prison for 99 years.
This is easily Hathaway's best film. There is fine, characteristic docu-noir urban location shooting, here in central Chicago. The powerful, declamatory voice over narration would become standard in these films. Stewart is nuanced as a cynical reporter who slowly becomes obsessed with the faulty verdict from so long ago that many of the protagonists are dead. It is quite a moving film and very strong on creating an impression of the many immigrant communities working in America in the unpopular jobs.
Compared with the vérité of Rossellini and Visconti, this is processed, mainstream stuff, but it is still groundbreaking in the context of American cinema and unashamed to show realistic poverty. The story of the innocent victims of institutional corruption is pure noir; but the injustice being heroically overturned, is a rare uplifting moment in these stories..
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