Henry Hathaway

There are always questions about the reality of the film. This has led to various kinds of films which have various degrees of truth about them.


Security cameras are closest to real documemtaton. No camera movement, no editing
Documentaries (selection problems) What does the camera look at? When does it move or change what it looks at? How is it edited?

Docudramas: a confusion of drama and fiction (dramatizad real events with fiction)

Docufiction combines fiction and documentary

Mocumentares: fiction events depicted as documentary

Ethnofiction: The re-enactment of ethnological material (Nanook of the North - things done by the people were done by them but faked for the film)

Fly on the wall: Watching as though film makers were flies on the wall.

Reality TV: Security camera approach, except crew and cameras and lights are in evidence

Alan Funt’s Candid Mike and Candid Camera. were early versions and continued tjrough the film What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?

Mostly anything meant to be “real” has been discredited.

Films based on real situations are not discredited because they don’t really claim to be real.. Several films this term are based on real events. Double Indemnity is based on a real case in Queens, This film is also based on a real case as is The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Some films are “inspired by” real events – Psycho and Silence of the Lambs are rooted in the life of the famous serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Some films are more in documentary style than others, since in effect no film is a truthful representation of what is happening. Virtually every film limits what you see through camera placement and editing. Video from a security camera probably comes as close to reality and one can get even if one doesn't want to get that close.

Some films are set up to have a kind of "realistic" feel about them that is stronger than just seeing the reality the film creates. There are serious differences between a "biopic" in which real people are played by actors and a documentary biography in which the actual people themselves appear.


Daryl Zanuck at Fox got Louis DeRouchemont who was known for his documentaries and March of Time film series to came to Fox. He would be involved in production of the "Fox noir films" which would include Black Widow (1954), Boomerang (1947), Call Northside 777 (1948) Daisy Kenyon (1947) Dangerous Crossing (1953) The Dark Corner (1946) Fallen Angel (1945), Fourteen Hours (1951), House of Bamboo (1955) House of Strangers (1949) The House on 92nd Street (1945) The House on Telegraph Hill (1951) I Wake Up Screaming (1941), Kiss of Death (1947) Laura (1944) Moontide (1942) Nightmare Alley (1947) No Way Out (1950) Panic in the Streets (1950) Road House (1948) Shock (1946) Somewhere in the Night (1946) The Street with No Name (1948) Vicki (1953) Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) and Whirlpool (1949)

Call Northside 777 was the first major narrative film using actual locations in and around Chicago, and used a true story as the basis for his script. Although the story diverges dramatically from the original, there is still an attempt to try to create a feeling of "truth" in the film. The question here is how is this done?

Henry Hathaway began filming with the "March of Time" series, and made a number of films before being selected to directed House on 92nd Street and 13 Rue Madeleine. His documentary background made him a good choice for the docu-noirs. His films indicate an interest in mle self sacrificing characters, and in using location shots.

Joe MacDonald, the cinematographer did some noirs

Since Double Indemnity is also based on a true story in Queens NY, a comparison between the two in interesting since Double Indemnity makes virtually no attempt to convince you that the story is any more real than any other film, while Call Northside 777 goes out of its way to do so.

How does it do so?

What noir influences are there in this film?

This is not really a "Who Dunnit" film. In fact we never find out Who Dunnit and we don't really care. The film is more about the system than the crime. Is it a crime film?


In films, at least one major character undergoes some kind of change. The path of the change is known as the trajectory the character takes. Who has the major trajectory and what is it?

McNeal change (from disbelief in Wiecek "Why not worry about cop?" "The cop jas been buried longer than Wiecek in prison?" to belief (other people ask the questions asked by McNeal previously and he answers them)

How do his changes get reflected in photography?

McNeal is talland towers over people. Later when yields on hearing he is placed lower.At the end, he and Wiecek leave and outside the prison, Wiecek is further forward to the camera and hence appears larger than McNeal

McNeal from non belief to belief in innocence of Wiecek.

Non association with lower classes to understanding of patterns.

(exposes child and wife with no thought; does not understand openness, religiousness associated with Poles but at end Tille has "a friend" in the Madonna, MacNeal passes church. And finally says "I prayed".

Performers and Associations for Audience

Zanuck liberal film: dehumanizing prison.

James Stewart – most famous for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Getting older - looking for new kind of roles. The audience could expect "star performance" much like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington complete with typical Stewar voice cracks.
Richard Conte usually plays a bad guy, here playing against type, but the idea of him playing the role gives believablity to the fact he might be guilty.

Lee J, Cobb playing typical role her - crusty editor type


Opening titles say it is true Use of "urgent stamp" Documentary footage Use of actual locations (scenes around Chicago, inside of prison, eyc. Use of diegetic music to set time and place.


Machinery: typesetting machines, printing presses, miniature cameras, machines to enlarge photos and send them through wires Trains Jigsaw puzzle Religious iconography with Poles Use of McNeal's middle class apartment to contrast with working class living spaces (Tille's home, Wanda Skutnick's room) Train sounds in Polish neighborhoods.

Images from Noir


Wiecek off to side when interrogated (like Musketeers of Pig Alley) surround by police
Images of Tomek through bars when enters Police station.
Many images through windows (frames within frames)

Frames within frames Ceiling appears in shots Claustrophobic, arm in shot, subject at edge of screen.

Very little background music (titles) sound of machinery etc.

What diegetic music is of the period

If a docudrama: story is based on real event, then docu-noir: is the same but in noir style

Sense of realtity – use documentary film

Voice of God narrator is common in docudrama/noir – Reed Hadley whose coive it is also is heard in T-Men and announced the TV program Racket Squad


Documentary style, narrator, real events Location footage Gives reality to film establishes time and place

Realistic dialog and real people as extras: real cops, real Poles etc

Leonarde Keeler actual Polygraph Examiner and (real inventor of polygraph modification)

Fox In Old Chicago => documentary
Prohibition documentary
Notice the attempt to match the shot of Wiecek's house for coumentary and then when camera moves to show Wieecek. Notice change of graniness.

Italian Neo realism true events location shooting working class subjects


Class differences characters from lower class more real than Jimmy Stewart

Technology specularized for time period .

Stonewalling by police

Police corrupt

Political system corrupt

Court system corrupt.

Speaking of "corruption" there is some fudging of rules. Notice the way in which the newsboy is hidden in the photograph by a strategically placed thumb. This is a kind of "cheat" in which the "detective" knows more than the audience.


Dec 9 1932

Real event

Despite this there are wild diversions from the actual event.

Actual editor a woman named Karen Walsh (played by Lee J Cobb) There were two people invovled the reporters James McGuire who got an ACLU award named after him as well as a Pulitzer prize, and the copywriter Jack MacPhaul

Actor Character in Film /td> Real Name
Richard Conte Frank W.Wiecek Joseph M. Majczek
James Stewart PJ McNeal James McGuire
John J. McPhaul
Lee J. Cobb Brian Kelly (editor) Karen Walsh
George Tyne Tomek Zaleska Theodore Marcinkiewicz
Bette Garde Wanda Skutnk Vera Walush
Kasia Orzazewsk Tillie Wiecek Tillie Majczek

In the actual event, a copy boy brought the ad to the attention of the editor who showed it to McGuire. He then called Tillie at home but couldn’t understand her accent.

The solution to the real problem came through the discovery of falsified or inaccurate police records, not through some super enlargement of a photo.

There is some indication that it was not a deli but a speakeasy and that Wanda had said it was NOT Wiecek then later said it was him. Apparently the idea was that the police said they wouldn’t arrest her on prohibition violations charges