Movie Review – Call Northside 777 with James Stewart

This classic black-and-white film is still in demand at Netflix by fans of Jimmy Stewart and especially by those who love a good mystery story. Based on a true story, the title, Call Northside 777, refers to an ad placed by an elderly cleaning lady who offers a reward for information concerning a cop killing eleven years ago during Prohibition in 1932. Tillie Wiecek’s son Frank, played by Richard Conte, was accused of the murder and is serving a 99-year prison term although he claimed all along that he was innocent of the crime. If you do not have a subscription to Netflix then another option for you to watch this movie is 123 movies. You can watch this movie for free there along with several other classics. 

J. McNeal, a reporter for the Chicago Times, is given the assignment by his editor Brian Kelly, played by Lee J. Cobb, to contact Tillie Wiecek to determine whether her story is newsworthy. McNeal initially feels that Frank Wiecek is guilty and that he is wasting his time bringing himself up to date on the case. After interviewing Tillie Wiecek, as well as Frank’s ex-wife and Frank himself, McNeal has a sense that Frank may be telling the truth. Frank had begged his wife Helen to divorce him and to start a new life for herself and their young boy, to which she reluctantly complied.

The audience soon realizes how far technology has taken us since the days of Prohibition. Lie detector machines are much more sophisticated today than the way in which they were portrayed in this film. McNeal makes use of a miniature camera to photograph old newspapers, reports, and pictures of the case that are still extant in police files. The final break in the case comes from McNeal’s efforts to have a newspaper photograph enlarged in the Police Lab. Today, it would be a simple procedure; at that time, it was not always possible to accomplish.

Frank Wiencek’s conviction was based on a key witness’ story that Frank was the cop killer. Wanda Skutnik initially identified Frank as the perpetrator of the killing which happened at Wanda’s delicatessen. She later changed her story when she viewed Frank in a police line-up and stated that Frank was not the man at her store. It is then revealed to the audience that Wanda’s so-called delicatessen was actually a speakeasy and that the police threatened to close her down if she did not finger Frank as the killer.

McNeal’s dogged determination to find the truth hinges on a newspaper photograph that has a newsboy in the background holding his stack of papers. The date on the newspaper is so significant that it has the ability to free a man imprisoned for 11 years for a crime he did not commit. We witness the tension of the photographer and the reporter as the picture is developed before our eyes with the date plainly enlarged in an old-fashioned bath given to negatives sixty years ago. That is why classic movies are still so much in demand. Fans love to view the primitive methods that crime fighters used compared to the technology of today. Jimmy Stewart did an excellent job in this film; it is easy to see why his fan-base was so huge.