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Call Northside 777

Call Northside 777(1948)

Remind Me

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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 December 9, 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 August 1945. (Marcinkiewicz was not released until 1950.) According to a June 20, 1947 Hollywood Reporter 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 August 1945 when Majczek was released. After Reader's Digest published a story entitled "Tillie Scrubbed On" in December 1946, Twentieth Century-Fox sent producer Otto Lang and writer Leonard Hoffman to Chicago in January 1947 to interview participants and writers connected with the story. In February 1947, Fox purchased from McGuire the rights to an unpublished story and other material concerning Majczek.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 October 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 August 2, 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 March 10, 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 Hollywood Reporter 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 March 5, 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." Daily Variety, in their review of the film, stated, "This one sticks more closely to the documentary pattern than its predecessors." Hollywood Reporter 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 October 7, 1948, Screen Guild Theatre presented a radio broadcast of Call Northside 777 with James Stewart, Richard Conte and Pat O'Brien, and on December 9, 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 January 1957 for the 20th Century-Fox Hour.