Call Northside 777

“Well, it made a pretty good yarn, I guess. Y’know — ‘Mother slaves to save $5,000, offers it to clear her son.’
I told myself it was all in a day’s work…”
Reporter Mac McNeal

About the film: IMDB page for “Call Northside 777”

The story’s tough-talking hero, played by Jimmy Stewart, begins this radio adaptation by mangling today’s journalism terminology. The story, he says, is “off the record” — but he means it’s all from public records. That is, it’s a true story. It starts with a classified ad in the newspaper, a scrub-woman, and a reporter’s search for the truth — and proof.

Based on a real newspaper investigation that led to the freeing of a convict, the film starred Stewart as an at-first-reluctant reporter who gradually becomes an advocate for a man whose mother scrubbed floors to offer a reward for new evidence in his case.

Decades before “All the President’s Men,” this story is a realistic “newspaper reporter procedural,” with Stewart’s character skeptical at first, then building the story gradually, chasing down leads, employing shoe-leather, compassion and insight.

Film historians will tell you where the makers employed their dramatic license. For a movie audience, the almost-documentary-style film’s conclusion uses a photographic clue to solve the case — not the easiest way to make a point in the later radio broadcast. The use of wirephoto and a dramatically enlarged image were not really “high tech” for the 1948 film, but may have seemed so to a non-technical audience.

The extra bonus, when it comes to radio drama’s record of the importance of newspapers in American life, is in how the reporter spots the key piece of evidence — a bundle of papers under a newsboy’s arm in a newspaper photograph: Newspapers-in-a-newspaper-photo-in-a-newspaper-drama!

The radio version is by Screen Guild Theater, one of radio’s “anthology” series that specialized in radio adaptations of hit films. James Stewart and Richard Conte re-create their film roles as the reporter and the prisoner.

Pat O’Brien (the original film Hildy Johnson in 1931’s “The Front Page”) is  added to the cast as Stewart’s editor, a part played by Lee J. Cobb in the film. O’Brien puts a great touch of Irish blarney into his speech convincing the reporter to dig deeper.

Compressing the film into a 25-minute radio drama meant cutting details, and corners. Is it still effective? Give a listen.

Someday this page will be updated with more information about the original case, the film, and the differences between the radio telling of the tale, the film, and reality.

For now, here are some resource links:

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