More Street Reality From Fox
Call Northside 777 (1947) For Docu-Noir
How this was sold is focus here. 20th Fox had a true story basis and shouted that to skies. What happened in real life was a natural for movies, a reporter exonerating a wrong man convicted on bogus evidence years before. Had
As with prior noir, Fox seasoned with real location and adherence close as showmanly possible to facts of the case. Dogged investigation had gotten an innocent man free, but the real killer remained loose and would remain so. 20th planted press to effect that Call Northside 777 may nab the guilty party by dint of a viewer seeing the movie and coming forth with fresh evidence. It was a neat hook, Chicagoans able to play detective in addition to fun of a corking thriller. "Police and newspaper men ... think they have a pretty shrewd idea as to who the murderer is," said Fox-prepared columns, but did they really? To the picture's credit, they didn't tie up narrative with too neat a ribbon. The ending is hopeful, but not necessarily happy. What Call Northside 777 celebrated was reporter tenacity and devices new to investigation technique, these emphasized in the film, and even more so, in publicity for the film.
A shiniest new toy was the lie detector. You couldn't use one in court, but Dr. Leonardo Keeler, who appears on-camera operating his device, said it was "more than 99 percent accurate." Call Northside 777 was probably the best endorsement polygraphs ever had. You'd swear the thing was infallible from watching here. Keeler insisted on playing himself because "no actor could handle the complex machine." Kind of reminded me of sound experts that took over the pic industry during transition to talk. No one questioned their expertise either. Another miracle device was 40's equivalent of a FAX machine, used in concert with X100 blow-up of an already indistinct photo to free the innocent man. That last doesn't bear up to much scrutiny, but works as engine for third act suspense, an aspect of Call Northside 777 that had worried director Hathaway, as evidenced in contretemps he had with Zanuck over a proper ending.
Watchwords then, were "real" and "true." Call Northside 777 would celebrate integrity of modern journalists, this a welcome departure from reporters of a Lee Tracy bent, an image scribes were ready to have done with. It paid to portray newspapers in positive light; they were, after all, the lifeline for movies before television became a promotional force. 20th had finally made urban thrillers pay, the way into wallets being "Filmed-From-Life" verisimilitude. Each investment to that account had gone into black: The House On