Another fascinating entry into the "docu-realism" noirs of the late 1940's. In it, director Henry Hathaway braids documentary footage with his film to make an interesting blend of fantasy and reality. Much like Dassin's "The Naked City" which focuses on crime in New York, Hathaway's film appears to be a case study of Chicago.
Hathaway starts the picture by showing the history of the Windy City as being riddled with crime and corruption. When one policeman is murdered, the newspaper almost comically states "another policeman murdered." Hathaway crafts this scene in such a way that I was having a hard time deciphering what was newsreel footage and what was his film.
It is this attention and unflinching commitment to realism & detail in the first act-most masterfully showcased in scenes such as the one involving a lie detector-that take would could easily have been a rather laborious watch and make it quite enjoyable. By gliding from newsroom to newsroom and watching countless minutes of Stewart hammering away on his Underwood Five, Hathaway not only brilliantly keeps with the film's authenticity, but also subtly shows the evolution of the case and the subsequent groundswell of support that it is garnering.
Stewart as always, is fantastic. Still oozing the All-American boyish charm that he is known for, but also displaying a hard-lined cynical nature on his brow. Nothing impresses him, nothing amazes him, but he still has an honest eye for justice. And even amid all of his serious journalistic pursuits, he managed to get a few well-earned laughs out of me.
Yet, while much of the film's first act works excellently, Hathaway's attempts at realism are soon thwarted by the good nature at the film's core. While Chicago is introduced as being historically amoral, Hathaway suggests that things may be on the upswing. Stewart may be a cynic, but his true colors begin to shine through as the film progresses. (And they are honest & Red, White, and Blue.) He does nothing for selfish gain and truly wants justice to prevail. This attitude appears to be infectious as citizens of the city continually come forth, proclaiming their own desire to see wrongs set right. It all climaxes in a clandestine court room hearing in which Stewart lectures the room on the meaning of lady justice. It is at times like these that the film ceases to be a realistic procedural and starts to feel a bit like "Mr. Smith Takes on the Justice System." Complete with an omniscient narrator telling the viewers "Yes, it's a good world outside."
Were this a joint production by Hathaway and Capra, I would totally understand. But until then I will always be wondering what caused Hathaway to take such a sharp right in what was looking to be a very solid film.