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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.