A reporter who investigates a curious classified ad ends up clearing a man erroneously convicted of murder. Based on a true story. [Dir: Henry Hathaway/ James Stewart, Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb/ 111 min/ Drama/ Free Press as Hero]
This terrific “free press” drama begins in the 1930s, a time when Prohibition had driven the liquor industry into the hands of the mob. In the opening scene, a policeman is killed in a Prohibition-related incident of violence in Chicago. Two men are quickly convicted for the murder and the case is closed. However, eleven years later a mysterious classified ad appears in the Chicago Times offering a large reward for information leading to the “real killers” of the policeman.
An alert editor assigns a reporter to investigate. That’s when this story kicks into high gear. It turns out that the person who placed the ad is the mother of one of the convicted men. Incredibly, she worked for eleven years to earn the money to offer the reward, so great is her faith in the innocence of her son. The more the reporter digs into the case, the more convinced he too becomes of her son’s innocence.
The state doesn’t see it that way, however, so the reporter is forced to lock horns with the justice system. In the course of his heroic effort, he demonstrates creative drive and independence in pursuit of justice, while the institutions intended to be instruments of justice try to stop him.
James Stewart (as the reporter) is in top form and is backed by some impressive minor performances. The entire film is shot on location, which adds much to the generally well-sketched atmosphere of Chicago during the 1930s and ’40s. The direction is at times inspired, particularly with regard to its use of cinematography, and makes the most of its early docu-drama style. This is a heartwarming story of a mother’s loyalty, of a reporter’s heroism, and above all of the importance of a free press.