DVD Review HTF REVIEW: FOX Film Noir - Call Northside 777

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Osadciw, Mar 9, 2005.

  1. Michael Osadciw

    Michael Osadciw Screenwriter

    Jun 24, 2003
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    Real Name:
    Michael Osadciw
    Call NORTHSIDE 777

    Studio: 20th Century Fox
    Film Year: 1948

    Rating: NR

    Film Length: 111 minutes
    Genre: Drama

    Aspect Ratio:[*] 1.33:1
    Colour/B&W: B&W

    Audio:[*] English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo[*] English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono[*] Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
    Subtitles: English, Spanish
    Closed Captioned: Yes

    SLP: US $14.98

    Release Date: March 15, 2005

    Film Rating: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Starring: James Stewart (P.J. McNeal), Richard Conte (Frank Wiecek), Lee J. Cobb (Brian Kelly), Helen Walker (Laura McNeil), Betty Garde (Wanda Skutnik), Kasia Orzazewski (Tillie Wiecek)

    Directed by: Henry Hathaway

    Second in the series of Film Noir titles from 20th Century Fox, Call Northside 777 features Jimmy Stewart as the newspaper reporter who became determined to find out about guilt and innocence of a man sentenced to prison for murder and the possible corruption of the Chicago police force. Known as docu-noir, this film is based on at true story.

    One of the most personal and social activities legally came to end on the morning of January 16, 1920. In an act to improve the health of hygiene of Americans, the Eighteenth Amendment was put into effect to end the manufacturing, importing-exporting, transporting, and selling of intoxicating liquor. The National Prohibition Act followed soon after to define intoxicating liquor as any substance with alcohol content more that 0.5 percent and that wasn’t used for medicine or sacramental purposes. This was meant to curb the consumption of alcohol – a habit that many considered as a purpose for crime, poverty, and death. This Act was not successful. An uproar in society made matters worse for America because this was hardly enforceable. Crime, alcohol consumption and violence grew stronger and faster than was imagined and lasted for twelve years.

    Gangs and mobs were formed and organized crime became common. Cop killers were rampant. The police were having a difficult time keeping it all under control and keeping a positive image in the spotlight of the press. According to Call Northside 777, 1932 was considered to be the most violent year of Prohibition. This is where the movie begins.

    One day in Chicago’s Polish district, in a little outfit called Wanda’s Grocery, two men enter into the store. Their collars are high but their motives were low; they had a reason to be there. One of Chicago’s officers was in the store conversing with the owners. The men's main motive was cold-blooded murder. With a sound echoing faster than the officer’s ability to reach for his weapon, the blast sent the officer to the ground: dead.

    In 1933, two men were committed for this murder; Frank Wiecek and Tomek Zaleska. They were sent to prison for 99 years. For 12 long years, no one heard about this case until a little add appeared in the Chicago Times. It asked for anyone with knowledge on this crime to call Northside 777.

    P.J. McNeil (Stewart) is a reporter who gets this job from his editor. He has to find out why someone is offering $5000 for information about a murder case 11 years ago and during the most violent times. He thinks it’s a stupid idea but reluctantly takes the task.

    He finds out that it's the mother of one of the convicted men. She believes that her boy is innocent and she is determined to free her son from jail by new evidence proving he didn’t commit the crime. She will continue to work scrubbing floors for another 11 years and save another $5000 if she has to. She doesn’t care about the money. She just wants her son back home.

    McNeil is baffled, but curious about the case. After his editor encourages him to write a little story on it, he does a little investigating of his own at the state prison where the man is held. McNeil isn’t at all convinced that the man, Frank Wiecek, is not a murderer. But Frank’s story delivers some interesting information about possible police corruption and the mysterious death of the judge (who admitted Frank was innocent) who promised Wiecek a retrial.

    More stories where printed in the press and more information from outside sources come rolling in. Politicians and the police force alike are telling McNeil to bud out of the story because it’s putting the reputable police force under scrutiny.

    Could there have been corruption of the police? Or is it just some crazy talk from a man suffering his life away behind bars? McNeil really wants to believe the man is guilty, but at the same time his instinct is telling him he should be free.

    Which is it? Find out while watching this fantastic film noir title. This movie is dark and tiring when filling the shoes of McNeil. The film is well acted and fulfills the characteristics of film noir with the way the camera conveys the gloomy investigation by the newspaper reporter. My favourite scene is during chapter 15, when McNeil confronts Wanda Skutnik in her less-than-hospital environment. Very suspenseful and very well done!

    Interestingly, original footage of Prohibition is inter-cut with the produced film at the beginning of the movie. It's used to give the film a documentary feel, now labelled as docu-noir. Most of the movie was filmed on location of the original events to keep as true to the story as possible. Running at 111 minutes, it is a little long, but it kept me alert all of the way through.

    There are also many interesting moments in the film showing the technology of the era. This film is obsessed with it! We get a thorough explanation of the lie detector test, many sights of the printing press, a peek at mini-cameras looking much like today’s digital cameras, and a wire transfer – an ancient way of faxing data from one city to another.

    Call Northside 777 is the winner of the 1948 Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Motion Picture.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    How does this video look? It’s not as clean as Laura is, but it’s still very good. I haven’t seen this film before so I don’t have a reference at all. Unfortunately there is no “before and after” special feature on this disc for me to assess the differences. But by looking at the theatrical trailer, this is a very good improvement.

    The excellent contrast that I’ve noted in my review of Laura is the same here. Viewing this 1.33:1 film at a colour temperature of 5400K, there are nice solid black levels and white levels don’t look clipped. Noise in the dark sections of the picture is mostly absent – a feat that some newer films can’t seem to get right these days. Film grain is still apparent, sometimes very apparent, as well as scratches and dirt. Markers for reel changes appear in the top right every once and a while, so I’d say this DVD was sourced from a theatrical print. There are no compression artefacts that stand out and edge enhancement seems very minor.

    The only major complaint I have is the amount of bouncing around this film does. It’s too bad that the studios can’t use some kind of image stabilizer (like what is used in a camera/camcorder) when making film transfers. The whole image slightly bounces around as it plays making me feel like a cat looking up/down/up/down in the slightest (and I mean slightest) way. It would be nice to have technology for film transfers analyzing the position of the frame one frame at a time - a program that could look at a fixed point on a single frame and match up that point in the horizontal and vertical direction for the next frame, and so on, to keep a steady image. In theory it seems like it could work!

    [​IMG]AUDIO QUALITY [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    This is truly a dialogue driven film. Aside from the opening scene, music does not enter the film until the 1h17m mark. Dialogue is clear and the rest of the recording contains some good ambience from the environments the actors are in. There is a little distortion when the sounds peak but it isn’t consistent through the film. At louder volume levels, background hiss gets a little prominent so I backed off the volume until the hiss was almost inaudible.

    The DVD has both a newly made stereo option and the original mono soundtrack. Both are Dolby Digital 2.0. My advice again is to STAY AWAY from this so-called stereo version. It’s not stereo at all. Actually, this is the worst stereo interpretation I’ve heard from the recent classics I’ve reviewed. Why? The soundtrack is left-center heavy. The entire soundtrack seems to be coming from between left channel and phantom center, with the rest of it out of phase so I really can’t tell where half of the sounds are coming from. The whole soundstage is diffuse, including the dialogue. Listen to the film's mono soundtrack. It’s focussed in the center and has a little more bass too. When pro-logic decoded, it is properly placed in the center channel.

    The DVD jacket incorrectly pictorially labels the mono soundtrack as Dolby Digital 1.0 mono.

    [​IMG]SPECIAL FEATURES [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Two special features are included on this disc. First is a commentary by authors and historians James Ursini and Alain Silver. Together they speak about the film, but mostly about the historical facts about the murder. Sometimes they have differing opinions, but it’s an interesting commentary to listen to.

    Next we have Fox Movietone News that shows that stars attend the premier of Call Northside 777. We also get to see Jimmy Stewart put his hand prints into the cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in L.A. I liked seeing that little clip because I took a picture of his prints when I visited Hollywood with members of Home Theater Forum (a wonderful trip and recommended to anyone ever thinking of doing this, should this opportunity become available again!).

    Lastly, there are trailers of other Fox Film Noir titles including Call Northside 777, House of Bamboo, Laura, Panic in the Streets and The Street With No Name.

    Oh yes, there’s also anamorphic menus too. I found that strange for a 1.33:1 film, but I like that instead of 1.33:1 menus.


    So what do we get for our $14.95? How about excellent value for a really good old movie? I’ve seen new Fox Studio Classics on store shelves for much less in Canadian dollars. I say this movie is well worth your purchase. It looks great, it sounds great in mono and …what else can I say…? Just go buy this movie along with Laura and Panic In the Streets. You won’t be sad that you did.

    Michael Osadciw
  2. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

    Jun 15, 2001
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    I've had this film on VHS for years, & it is a favorite Jimmy Stewart of mine. I'm glad it has some extras. My DVD will arrive next week.
  3. JohnMor

    JohnMor Producer

    Mar 6, 2004
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    Los Angeles, CA
    Real Name:
    John Moreland
    Thanks for the great review, Michael. I was only going to pick up Laura, but now this is a definite blind buy for me. Sounds right up my alley.
  4. Doug Wallen

    Doug Wallen Cinematographer

    Oct 21, 2001
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    Doug Wallen
    As a fan of Jimmy Stewart, I have long been awaiting this film, glad it is almost here.[​IMG]
  5. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator

    Dec 9, 1998
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    In some ways, I think the video presentation of this dvd was even better than "Laura". I didn't noticed the "bouncing around" as you called it.

  6. BryanV

    BryanV Stunt Coordinator

    Feb 16, 2004
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    Great review, you have some insight on a film I have seen a million times yet never picked up on myself.

    This is another notch in my James Stewart DVD collection. Thank you Fox.
  7. Ross Munro

    Ross Munro Auditioning

    Jan 9, 2004
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    Picked up Panic in the Streets on Sat.- was gonna get Call Northside but noticed some French printing on the front and back (I live in Vancouver). Does the Northside in the States have this French printing?
  8. Jean Paul Villeneuve

    Jean Paul Villeneuve Second Unit

    May 8, 2001
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    No, only the Canadian cover is bilingual.

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