Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Call Northside 777


Before there was The Wrong Man, there was this movie. Both are in a semi-documentary style, both concern men wrongly convicted of murder, both were based on true stories. In this one, filmed on location in Chicago, Jimmy Stewart is a reporter who is reluctantly put on the story when the convict’s mother, a charwoman, saves up $5000—a huge sum back then—over eleven years, and offers it as a reward if someone can prove her son’s innocence. Stewart eventually becomes passionately convinced the wrong man is in jail. (Of course, he eventually does get him released, or we wouldn’t be telling this story, would we?) It’s nicely done, and it’s fun to see what was considered hi-tech in 1948. They super-enlarge a photo to see the date on a newspaper in one corner, and then “fax” it from Chi-town to Springfield, a process that looks like it takes about half an hour, and the fax must be developed at the other end. And it must be one of the earlier instances of showing a polygraph, the bit of technological witchcraft usually called a lie detector. Amazingly, the man who administers the test is Leonarde Keeler, who IMDb claims is the inventor of the device. Wikipedia differs, but it is certain that Keeler played a part in its development. And I’m sure the man meant well, but in my opinion it’s an evil piece of shit. It is easy to learn how to fool it (the CIA gives classes on that), and sociopaths and psychopaths instinctively know how to fake their way through. Even worse, refusing to take a test disqualifies you from holding many government and even private jobs, and to most people is a clear indication of guilt. I would banish them from police departments and government agencies at once if I were president of the country. So vote for me, okay?