I came across Call Northside 777, the 1948 James Stewart movie, when digressing from the research I should have been doing for my next book.
A big hit at the time, the account of a journalist investigating the story of a woman who insists her son was wrongly jailed for the murder of a policeman, has aged remarkably well, helped by that basic plot still being sadly contemporary.
Based on a true story of a policeman’s murder in Chicago during Prohibition, it is helped by being filmed in a documentary-style and with a cracking script that, until a moment of forced drama near the end, is pretty realistic. It also gives James Stewart, playing journalist PJ McNeal, plenty of opportunities to show his whimsical charm:
PJ McNeal: You look nice. Will you marry me?
Laura McNeal: I did.
PJ McNeal: Oh yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Thanks.
Laura McNeal: You’re welcome. Just remember I’m here.
If you get to the end of the film and wonder – putting this opaquely to avoiding giving a spoiler – what happened to the other person who should have been central to the story’s denouement but fades out from being mentioned part way through the film, in real life a similar denouement happened for them too. For the full story of what happened in the years after the events in the film (and full of spoilers) see the moving account run on the Chicago Tribune blog after the son of one of the characters posted a comment there.
Here is the film’s trailer:
If you like this, you might also be interested in State of Play, another film focusing on investigative journalism.