Part of 20th Century Fox's film noir series (a genre many studios are finally exploiting on DVD), "Call Northside 777" is more of a docu-drama, although the stark visual style and obvious mystery twists - particularly the eerie apartment confrontation between converted reporter James Stewart and an unconscionable witness - are typical of the popular genre that's enjoyed continued devotion from film buffs over the years.
Based on an actual case of wrongful conviction, the film actually follows the plight of the better-known half of two men that were victimized by police corruption - a hot-button topic that's carefully dealt with in the film, without completely painting the city police department at fault for sending two men to jail for eleven years.
Commentators James Ursini and Alain Silver do an excellent job in citing factual drifts and creative license in the film's otherwise tight narrative, and amusingly dissect the production's peculiar fixation with procedural matters - like scenes involving a lie detector gizmo, and the transmission of new-found evidence that may improve Conte's chance at parole. The documentary style is what really grips the viewer, aided by classic, no-nonsense bridge narration; and superb locations that frequently dwarf the crusading reporter, and enhance the forgotten status of Conte's innocent man status (as seen in a marvelous prison sequence).
Ursini and Silver pretty much conduct an ongoing discussion as the film plays, giving the commentary track a leisurely pace. Often it takes a series of prodding statements before a topic is found and sufficiently unearthed for the benefit of listeners; the gaps and idle chatter are frequent, and while major topics are ultimately addressed, the overall flow is uneven.
Fox's print is very good, and while many of these film's aren't in impeccable shape, the studio actively maintains a good balance between digital noise reduction and filtration when mastering their back catalogue. The grey levels are excellent, and the original mono sound mix offers clean dialogue and sound effects tracks.
A gripping film from start to finish, and one of Stewart's best roles.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan