Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

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Call Northside 777

Jerry Stratton, July 7, 2015

The courage of a newspaper, and one reporter’s refusal to accept defeat.

I ran across a reference to this old black & white film a few weeks ago; I no longer remember where. I couldn’t find it on Netflix, but it did turn out to be on YouTube. Serendipitously, the YouTube app recently appeared on our Smart TV.

Call Northside 777 is very reminiscent of Deadlines & Monkeyshines. That’s not surprising, as the author of that book apparently wrote some of the articles the film is based on. The movie is billed in some quarters as a documentary but it’s more film noir, and definitely uses Hollywood reality-altering techniques to streamline the story, increase empathy, and increase tension. It’s more of a translation, akin to All the President’s Men—and like that movie is based on the written word. In this case, the written words were articles in The Chicago Times. The credited author of the articles, James P. McGuire (translated to P.J. McNeal in the movie) figures prominently in Deadlines & Monkeyshines.

The movie makes old-school journalists look just as bad as modern ones. Jimmy Stewart’s character takes only the facts he needs to construct the narrative his editor wants. Of course, this being a movie where Stewart is the hero, he comes to care for his journalistic pawns.

His editor makes up stories to motivate him. As a cynical hard-nosed journalist he doesn’t fall for the trick, but he has no problem manipulating his readers in the same way.

This is a very interesting look at what people perceived journalists to be—or what journalists wanted to be perceived as—in 1948 when the film came out. And if Deadlines & Monkeyshines is to be believed, it is what journalism really was: a cutthroat business where readers figured last, and only because someone had to buy the papers to pay their salaries.

And this movie really hits on our modern perception of the true, grizzled journalist. I loved the way Stewart walked into the newsroom filled with typewriters and inexpertly tossed his hat onto the office hat rack, the cigarette perpetually dangling from his mouth, and the old typewriters—potentially new at the time, of course, but so representative of what journalists are supposed to be.

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