Call Northside 777

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Call Northside 777
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Produced by Otto Lang
Written by Leonard Hoffman
Quentin Reynolds
Screenplay by Jerome Cady
Jay Dratler
Based on 1944 Chicago Daily Times articles
by James P. McGuire
Jack McPhaulwriter
Starring James Stewart
Richard Conte
Lee J. Cobb
Helen Walker
Narrated by Truman Bradley
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Edited by J. Watson Webb Jr.
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release date
  • February 1, 1948 (1948-02-01) (United States)
Running time
111 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2.7 million (US rentals)[1]

Call Northside 777 is a 1948 reality-based film noir directed by Henry Hathaway and starring James Stewart.[2] The picture parallels a true story of a Chicago reporter who proved that a man in prison for murder was wrongly convicted 11 years before. The names of the real wrongly convicted men were Majczek and Marcinkiewicz for the murder of Chicago Traffic Police Officer William D. Lundy.

Stewart stars as the persistent journalist and Richard Conte plays the imprisoned Frank Wiecek. Wiecek is based on Joseph Majczek, who was wrongly convicted of the murder of a Chicago policeman in 1932, one of the worst years of organized crime during Prohibition.


James Stewart in Call Northside 777 (1948)

In Chicago in 1932, during Prohibition, a policeman is murdered inside a speakeasy. Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) and another man are quickly arrested, and are later sentenced to serve 99 years imprisonment each for the killing. Eleven years later, Wiecek's mother (Kasia Orzazewski) puts an ad in the newspaper offering a $5,000 reward for information about the true killers of the police officer.

This leads the city editor of the Chicago Times, Brian Kelly (Lee J. Cobb), to assign reporter P.J. McNeal (James Stewart) to look more closely into the case. McNeal is skeptical at first, believing Wiecek to be guilty. But he starts to change his mind, and meets increased resistance from the police and the state attorney's office, who are unwilling to be proved wrong. This is quickly followed by political pressure from the state capital, where politicians are anxious to end a story that might prove embarrassing to the administration. Eventually, Wiecek is proved innocent by, among other things, the enlarging of a photograph showing the date on a newspaper that proves that a key witness statement was false. In actuality, innocence was determined not as claimed in the film but when it was found out that the prosecution had suppressed the fact that the main witness had initially declared that she could not identify the two men involved in the police shooting.[3]


Production notes[edit]

This was the first Hollywood feature film to be shot on location in Chicago.[citation needed] Views of the Merchandise Mart as well as Holy Trinity Polish Mission can be seen throughout the film.


It was reported on Jan 24, 1947, that, according to the studio, the picture will be filmed in the documentary manner. Fox has obtained the necessary legal clearances from the persons involved in the story and has dispatched Otto Land, Producer, and Leonard Hoffman, writer, to Chicago to obtain material for the film.

According to a news report on Mar. 7, from The New York Times, Twentieth Century-Fox has named Henry Fonda to play the newspaper reporter in "Call Northside 777". "Call Northside 777" will precede "Chicken Every Sunday" and "Loan Star Preacher" on Fonda's schedule. However, after a month, another report pointed out that Henry Fonda has been named by 20th-Fox for a leading role in the screen adaptation of Elizabeth Janeway's novel, "Daisy Kenyon". This assignment necessitates Fonda’s replacement in "Call Northside 777". Two months later, another report said that “Twentieth Century-Fox, it was disclosed, is negotiating for the services of James Stewart for the leading role in ‘Call Northside 777’.” Mr. Stewart will begin shooting in Chicago on Spt. 15.

The treatment of this film was postponed in March 1947 because of scenario trouble. It scheduled for the cameras in mid-September, 1947, with James Stewart, Richard Conte and Lee Cobb heading the cast. The screenplay was written by Leonard Hoffman, Quentin Reynolds, and Jay Dratler. (Jay Dratler has been named to rewrite the script of this film) Lloyd Nolan was originally named to play the role of Brian Kelly, but Lee J. Cobb replaced him in the end. Two feminine roles, the mother and the wife of the falsely convicted man, for which Leopoldine Konstantine and Frances Dee were scheduled last spring, remain to be cast. However, Kasia Orzazewski is the one who played this role in the end.


For an episode of CBS Radio's "Hollywood Sound Stage", broadcast December 27, 1951, Harry Cronman adapted and directed a condensed 30-minute version of the film, casting Dana Andrews and Thomas Gomez in the leads. Tony Barrett, Bob Sweeney, Betty Lou Gerson, and Frank Nelson played supporting roles.

The April 17, 1951, audition episode of the radio program "Defense Attorney" (then titled "Defense Rests") starring Mercedes McCambridge was based on the same plot, with some modifications.


Critical response[edit]

The film received mostly positive reviews when it was first released, and again when it was released on DVD in 2004. In 2004, the Onion AV Club Review argued that the film may not be a true film noir, but is good nonetheless: "Outstanding location shooting and Stewart's driven performance turn a sober film into a vibrant, exciting one, even though the hero and the jailbird he champions are really too noble for noir."[4] The website DVD Verdict made the case that the lead actor may be the best reason to see the film: "Its value exists mainly in Stewart's finely drawn characterization of a cynical man with a nagging conscience."[5]

"By far the best documentary-style movie yet... Hands down the most expert, informative, gripping, and develops the most substantial audience rooting interest of them all"---AGER, PM.

"Calls for three cheers from every working newspaper man and, for that matter, for at least two from every moviegoer."---CREELMAN N.Y Sun




  • Writers Guild of America: WGA Award; Best Written American Drama, Jerome Cady and Jay Dratler; The Robert Meltzer Award (Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with Problems of the American Scene), Jerome Cady and Jay Dratler; 1949.


“Call Northside 777” was advertised in a novel manner by the Valerie Theatre. The manager picked at random numbers from the phone book. If the party called answered by saying “Are you calling Northside 777,” free tickets to see the show were given.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
  2. ^ Call Northside 777 on IMDb.
  3. ^ "J. Majczek; wrongfully imprisoned," Chicago Tribune obituary, June 1, 1983, p. B4.
  4. ^ Murray, Noel. Onion AV Club Review, film review, March 29, 2005. Accessed: April 5, 2008.
  5. ^ DVD Verdict. Film review, 2005. Accessed: April 5, 2008.
  6. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016. 

External links[edit]

Streaming audio[edit]