This forgotten true-life drama is based on articles by Chicago reporter James P. McGuire.James Stewart is Jim McNeal, a cynical Chicago newspaperman who responds to an ad (“Call Northside 777”) offering $500 for information about who killed a policeman in a speakeasy back in 1932. The ad, it turns out, was placed by an elderly Polish woman whose son (Richard Conte), she claims, was unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to 99 years for the murder. McNeal runs a story on the mother, sparking renewed, sentimental interest in the case. Skeptical at first, McNeal soon becomes convinced that the man is in fact innocent.
This change-of-pace film for Stewart — who jumped at it to get out of what he considered a rut — has a much different style and flavor than his previous movies (though its documentary conceit is inconsistently applied). Surprisingly, McNeal at one point suggests that political and police corruption could play a part in the case. A well-known conservative Republican, Stewart never let his politics deform his movies. Despite McNeal’s growing confidence in the prisoner’s innocence, director Henry Hathaway still leaves the outcome open to question until the end; we know the people McNeal interviews have reason to lie.Like Hathaway’s previous 'Kiss of Death,' this movie makes a point of being filmed on location; we can feel that cold Chicago wind.