Call Northside 777 (1948)

110-111 mins | Drama | 18 February 1948

Full page view
HISTORY

The following statement appears after the opening credits: "This is a true story. This film was photographed in the State of Illinois using wherever possible, the actual locales associated with the story." According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, studio publicity and various newspaper articles, the actual story occurred in much the same manner as was presented in the film. Joe Majczek and Theodore Marcinkiewicz were convicted of the murder of officer William D. Lundy, who was killed on 9 Dec 1932 in a speakeasy owned by Vera Walush in the Southside of Chicago. It was postulated that because the city was preparing for the 1933 World's Fair, Mayor Anton Cermak issued orders for a cleanup of the city, and pressure may have been put on the police department to arrest someone for the murder of the police officer. Majczek's mother Tillie scrubbed floors in office buildings for years to raise money to buy information to free her son, and in 1944, she placed an ad in the Chicago Times . Reporter James P. McGuire of the Times investigated the story and after proving to the Illinois parole board that Majczek was innocent, Majczek was pardoned by the Governor of Illinois and freed in Aug 1945. (Marcinkiewicz was not released until 1950.) According to a 20 Jun 1947 HR news item, Majczek was awarded $24,000 by the Illinois legislature as compensation for his ordeal. Tillie died in 1964, and Majczek, who remarried and became an insurance agent, died in 1983. The real killer or killers were never ... More Less

The following statement appears after the opening credits: "This is a true story. This film was photographed in the State of Illinois using wherever possible, the actual locales associated with the story." According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, studio publicity and various newspaper articles, the actual story occurred in much the same manner as was presented in the film. Joe Majczek and Theodore Marcinkiewicz were convicted of the murder of officer William D. Lundy, who was killed on 9 Dec 1932 in a speakeasy owned by Vera Walush in the Southside of Chicago. It was postulated that because the city was preparing for the 1933 World's Fair, Mayor Anton Cermak issued orders for a cleanup of the city, and pressure may have been put on the police department to arrest someone for the murder of the police officer. Majczek's mother Tillie scrubbed floors in office buildings for years to raise money to buy information to free her son, and in 1944, she placed an ad in the Chicago Times . Reporter James P. McGuire of the Times investigated the story and after proving to the Illinois parole board that Majczek was innocent, Majczek was pardoned by the Governor of Illinois and freed in Aug 1945. (Marcinkiewicz was not released until 1950.) According to a 20 Jun 1947 HR news item, Majczek was awarded $24,000 by the Illinois legislature as compensation for his ordeal. Tillie died in 1964, and Majczek, who remarried and became an insurance agent, died in 1983. The real killer or killers were never found.
       Time reported on the case in Aug 1945 when Majczek was released. After Reader's Digest published a story entitled "Tillie Scrubbed On" in Dec 1946, Twentieth Century-Fox sent producer Otto Lang and writer Leonard Hoffman to Chicago in Jan 1947 to interview participants and writers connected with the story. In Feb 1947, Fox purchased from McGuire the rights to an unpublished story and other material concerning Majczek. McGuire subsequently was hired as a technical advisor on the film. Fox also paid for releases from a number of persons whom they characterized in the film, including Tillie and Joe Majczek and Majczek's former wife. The company failed, however, to obtain a release from Vera Walush, portrayed as Wanda Skutnik in the film, who owned the speakeasy where the murder was committed and whose testimony identifying Majczek as the murderer led to his conviction. Although McGuire, Lang and Fox's legal counsel judged there to be little chance that Walush, who was ill at the time, would file a suit, she did so on May 1950. In her suit, Walush, who was by then known as Mrs. Vera Walush Kasulis, asked for $500,000 and claimed that the picture caused her to be "subject to dishonor and humiliation." Fox settled the suit in Oct 1954, paying Kasulis $25,000 and agreeing not to reissue the film in any theater or to any local television station within the municipal limits of Chicago.
       In 2 Aug 1947 memo to Lang, director Henry Hathaway and writer Jay Dratler, executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck commented, "There is a big Polish population in the United States. You will note that I have calmed down some of the dialogue that tends to indicate that all Poles are not on the side of the law, but I think perhaps Dratler should go even further in toning it down. We should not definitely say that this is a Polish neighborhood. Perhaps we could just refer to it as a very tough neighborhood where the people always stick together and protect one another from outsiders, etc." In a 10 Mar 1947 letter from PCA Director Joseph I. Breen to the studio, included in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Breen wrote, "we suggest that you substitute some other word ... for 'Polack.' This derogatory reference is liable to give offense to a great many motion picture patrons." The PCA also deemed an early screenplay to be "not acceptable because of its highly questionable portrayal of the police." Later versions of the screenplay were approved, although after filming was completed, the studio cut the scene of the policeman being killed to comply with a Production Code provision that "officers of the law must not be shown dying at the hands of criminals."
       According to HR news items, Louis King was originally set to direct the picture, which was to star Henry Fonda and Lloyd Nolan. Madame Leopoldine Konstantin was originally signed to play "Tillie Wiecek." Leonarde Keeler, the inventor of the lie detector, played himself in the film, as did Chicago Times photographer Bill Vendetta. Call Northside 777 marked the production debut of Otto Lang, who had previously directed pictures for Fox; the American film debut of Dutch actress Joanne de Bergh; and the screen debut of radio actress Betty Garde. The picture was shot in Chicago at numerous locations including the C.B. & Q. railroad yards, "Skid Row" and "Bughouse Square" in the South Wabash and South State Street slum districts, the Polish quarter and the Criminal Courts building. Scenes were also shot at the Illinois State Prison in Springfield. The photo lab sequence was filmed at the Douglas Aircraft Co. in Santa Monica, CA, and some shooting was done at the Los Angeles Times building.
       It was Zanuck's intention for the film to use a "semi-documentary" style of mixed realism and drama, which Fox and other studios had used in a number of films made during the previous few years. In a memo dated 5 Mar 1947, he wrote, "While it is our intention to tell a hard-hitting, factual, semi-documentary story like The House on 92nd Street , 13 Rue Madeleine and Boomerang , we cannot ignore drama any more than these films ignored drama." DV , in their review of the film, stated, "This one sticks more closely to the documentary pattern than its predecessors." HR commented, "Few motion picture formulas have proved so continuously effective as the semi-documentary technique which takes a real-life story and presents it as a straight-from-the-shoulder statement of facts. Drama, then, is enhanced by its accuracy and emotional strength is drawn from its realism."
       On 7 Oct 1948, Screen Guild Theatre presented a radio broadcast of Call Northside 777 with James Stewart, Richard Conte and Pat O'Brien, and on 9 Dec 1949, Screen Directors' Playhouse broadcast a version of the story starring Stewart and Bill Conrad. A television adaptation of the story was broadcast under the title False Witness in Jan 1957 for the 20th Century-Fox Hour . More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
24 Jan 1948.
---
Cue
21 Feb 1948.
---
Daily Variety
21 Jan 48
p. 3.
Daily Variety
31 May 50
p. 5.
Daily Variety
2 Jun 1983.
---
Film Daily
21 Jan 48
p. 6.
Hollywood Citizen-News
27 Feb 1948.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jan 47
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Feb 47
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Mar 47
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Mar 47
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 47
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jun 47
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Sep 47
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Nov 47
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jan 48
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Feb 48
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Mar 1948.
---
Life
1 Mar 1948.
---
Life
6 Mar 1950.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
20 Jun 1947.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
27 Feb 1948.
---
Los Angeles Herald Express
20 Jun 1947.
---
Los Angeles Times
29 Sep 1947.
---
Los Angeles Times
27 Feb 1948.
---
Motion Picture Daily
21 Jan 1948.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
24 Jan 48
p. 4029.
New York Times
19 Feb 48
p. 29.
New York Times
26 Jul 1964.
---
New Yorker
28 Feb 1948.
---
Newsweek
23 Feb 1948.
---
Reader's Digest
1 Dec 46
pp. 81-84..
Time
27 Aug 45
p. 23.
Time
6 Mar 1950.
---
Variety
21 Jan 48
p. 8.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward dir
Cost des
MUSIC
Orch arr
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Wirephoto by
Tech adv
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
Scr supv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on articles by James P. McGuire, published in the Chicago Times .
SONGS
"Drinking Song," music by Alfred Newman, lyrics by Irene Dzierzgowska.
DETAILS
Release Date:
18 February 1948
Production Date:
22 September--15 November 1947
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
28 January 1948
Copyright Number:
LP1866
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
110-111
Length(in feet):
9,969
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
PCA No:
12397
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On 9 Dec 1932, during Chicago's violent Prohibition period, police officer John W. Bundy is murdered while he drinks at a speakeasy operated by Wanda Skutnik. Following a tip from a bootlegger, police question Frank Wiecek, who has a minor police record, about his friend Tomek Zaleska, who asserts that he was home at the time of the murder. Finding some inconsistencies in Frank's statements, police hold him on suspicion of the crime. After six weeks of hiding out, Tomek surrenders to the police, and while he maintains that he is innocent, he and Frank are convicted of the murder, based on Wanda's identification of them as the masked assailants, and are sentenced to ninety-nine years at Stateville Penitentiary. On 11 Oct 1944, Brian Kelly, editor of the Chicago Times , spots an ad in the personal notices placed by Tillie Wiecek, Frank's mother, offering a $5,000 reward for the killers of Officer Bundy and instructing those with information to "Call Northside 777." Kelly sends reporter P. James McNeal to investigate, and when Jim locates Tillie, who works as a scrubwoman, she tells him that she has saved the reward money over the past eleven years. Although he believes Frank to be guilty, Jim writes a sympathetic article about Tillie. When Kelly asks for a follow-up interview of Frank, Jim hesitates, but writes a second article implying possible police and political corruption after Frank reveals that the police deliberately kept him from seeing his lawyer while he was being interrogated, and that Wanda did not identify him as the killer the first two times she was questioned. The article provokes much response, and Kelly asks Jim to interview ... +


On 9 Dec 1932, during Chicago's violent Prohibition period, police officer John W. Bundy is murdered while he drinks at a speakeasy operated by Wanda Skutnik. Following a tip from a bootlegger, police question Frank Wiecek, who has a minor police record, about his friend Tomek Zaleska, who asserts that he was home at the time of the murder. Finding some inconsistencies in Frank's statements, police hold him on suspicion of the crime. After six weeks of hiding out, Tomek surrenders to the police, and while he maintains that he is innocent, he and Frank are convicted of the murder, based on Wanda's identification of them as the masked assailants, and are sentenced to ninety-nine years at Stateville Penitentiary. On 11 Oct 1944, Brian Kelly, editor of the Chicago Times , spots an ad in the personal notices placed by Tillie Wiecek, Frank's mother, offering a $5,000 reward for the killers of Officer Bundy and instructing those with information to "Call Northside 777." Kelly sends reporter P. James McNeal to investigate, and when Jim locates Tillie, who works as a scrubwoman, she tells him that she has saved the reward money over the past eleven years. Although he believes Frank to be guilty, Jim writes a sympathetic article about Tillie. When Kelly asks for a follow-up interview of Frank, Jim hesitates, but writes a second article implying possible police and political corruption after Frank reveals that the police deliberately kept him from seeing his lawyer while he was being interrogated, and that Wanda did not identify him as the killer the first two times she was questioned. The article provokes much response, and Kelly asks Jim to interview Frank's ex-wife Helen, who divorced him after he was imprisoned. Helen tells Jim that Frank begged her to divorce him for the sake of their son, who, Frank felt, needed a name untainted by the crime. Jim's story about Helen causes Frank to send for him, and at the penitentiary, Frank angrily tells him to stop writing about his family. When the warden informs Jim that the other prisoners believe Frank and Tomek are innocent, Jim interviews Tomek and offers to help him get paroled if he confesses who was with him when he committed the murder. Tomek's protestation of innocence finally convinces Jim that neither of the men are guilty, and he tells Frank that he will now slant the articles in his favor and will dig into the story. After Frank passes a lie detector test, Jim's next article proclaims Frank's innocence. Despite antagonism from police angry that Jim is trying to help a cop killer, he gets access to Frank's booking record, which is dated 23 Dec 1932. What Jim really needs, however, is Frank's arrest record, which, if it is earlier than the booking date, will support Frank's contentions that Wanda had the opportunity to see him before she identified him, and that a police captain induced her to name Frank as one of the killers. Although Jim learns that the police captain died in 1938, he locates the arrest book, which had been separated from the files, and photographs the page listing Frank's arrest date as 22 Dec 1932. After Jim's next article charges political corruption, he is summoned with Kelly to a meeting with the paper's publisher, K. L. Palmer, Sam Faxon from the state's attorney's office and Robert Winston, an aide to the governor. To resolve the governmental objections to the articles, Winston proposes to conduct a hearing of the pardon board the following week. If Frank is exonerated, he will be pardoned, but if not, the paper must agreed to drop the story. Palmer, with Kelly and Jim's consent, agrees. Winston warns, however, that should Frank lose, the record of his failure could hurt his chances to be paroled in thirty years. Martin Burns, the paper's attorney, is skeptical, as he does not think that they have sufficient evidence in Frank's favor. Jim then reveals that he located a photograph showing Wanda arriving at the police station at the same time as Frank, and states that the photo is evidence that Wanda lied about not seeing Frank before she identified him in the police line. Burns, though, maintains that the burden will be on Jim to prove that the photograph was taken on 22 Dec and advises him to discredit Wanda. Working on a tip that Wanda used to run around with a stockyards worker, and thinking that she may still be in the liquor business, Jim circulates her picture in bars in the Polish section behind the stockyards, but gets no leads. He then writes an article about the search and includes his own photo. Two days before the parole board is to convene, a woman sees him in a bar and sells him Wanda's address. Jim finds Wanda, but despite the $5,000 reward, she angrily throws Jim out after he implies she fears retribution from someone. Without Wanda's change of testimony, Burns advises Jim that Frank will lose the hearing, then goes to Springfield to ask that the case be withdrawn so that it will not go on Frank's record. Kelly has Jim break the news to Tillie in person, and although she cries and says that she has no friends left, she is comforted by her faith in God. In a cab on the way to the newspaper office, Jim reads about a new enlargement process that the police have used in a forgery case. He immediately goes to the police photo lab, where the technician, in sympathy with the case because of Jim's articles, agrees to blow up a section of the photograph showing both Frank and Wanda. After calling Burns, Jim flies to Springfield to stall the hearing until Kelly can send the photo over the Associated Press wire to a nearby newspaper office. He tells the parole board that he hopes the enlargement will show the date of a newspaper being hawked in the photo to be 22 Dec 1932. Despite Faxon's objections, the chairman agrees to go to the newspaper office. The wire photo reveals the date to be 22 Dec, and Frank is released from prison. Jim reminds Frank that not many governments in the world would admit such an error. On the outside Frank greets his son, his mother and Helen, who introduces her present husband, Rayska, who promises Frank that he can be with his son anytime. Content, Frank says it is a good world outside. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.