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Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero - Manny to his friends - is a string bassist, a devoted husband and father, and a practicing Catholic. His $85 a week gig playing in the jazz combo at the Stork Club is barely enough to make ends meet. The Balestreros' lives will become a little more difficult with the major dental bills his wife Rose will be incurring. As such, Manny decides to see if he can borrow off of Rose's life insurance policy. But when he enters the insurance office, he is identified by some of the clerks as the man that held up the office twice a few months earlier. Manny cooperates with the police as he has nothing to hide. Manny learns that he is a suspect in not only those hold ups, but a series of other hold ups in the same Jackson Heights neighborhood in New York City where they live. The more that Manny cooperates, the more guilty he appears to the police. With the help of Frank O'Connor, the attorney that they hire, they try to prove Manny's innocence. Regardless of if ... Written by
Alfred Hitchcock filmed one of his usual cameos, standing in a restaurant as Manny sits, but decided on using a narrated prologue instead. See more »
As Rose is being led up the stairs of the mental treatment facility, the shadow of someone's head appears in the bottom left corner behind the lamp. It seems as though someone walked past a bulb. See more »
This is Alfred Hitchcock speaking. In the past, I have given you many kinds of suspense pictures. But this time, I would like you to see a different one. The difference lies in the fact that this is a true story, every word of it. And yet it contains elements that are stranger than all the fiction that has gone into many of the thrillers that I've made before.
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Hard to watch by design, "The Wrong Man" impresses with its technique and stark dissimilarity from what we associate with director Alfred Hitchcock. But novelty does not equal brilliance.
Henry Fonda is the title character, a club musician named Manny Balestrero mistakenly pegged for a hold-up man while trying to borrow some money from his wife Rose's (Vera Miles) life insurance policy. The arrest forces Manny to not only prove his innocence but fight to keep his family intact.
"Bleak and dour" is the best way to describe this movie. "Every step a journey in darkness" is the trailer's tagline, and it is only a slight exaggeration. Hitchcock even does a voice-over telling us how unusual a story this is for him to tackle, because "every word" of it is true.
The problem with "The Wrong Man" is the way it makes real life feel like a trip to the dentist's. Fonda feels wrong in the central role, not because he is not a convincing everyman but because he seems so uncomfortable in his own skin. Even before he is charged with anything we watch him regard his surroundings with a strange, strained, sheepish smile. Prison doesn't seem much of a change.
Hitchcock fans might enjoy this detour into Kazan territory (minus the method acting) for the way it sets up some unique camera work. Sequences of Fonda's head revolving inside a lens and later of him seen through a cell latch hole get much of the attention, but just as interesting, and more in keeping with the realistic aesthetic, are the numerous POV and high-angle shots that play up the claustrophobia in less showy ways.
I have a hard time understanding how people might view "The Wrong Man" as an underrated masterpiece. The central story is too thin, takes way too long to develop, and is resolved with offhanded ease following one of the least interesting trial sequences ever shot. Hitchcock himself seems to lose interest in it, going full-tilt into a second story about Rose's mental meltdown. Miles certainly has effective moments in her spotlight scenes, enough to make one wonder what she would have done with the part she was offered in "Vertigo", but her crack-up as written is too abrupt and capped by a laughably pat end frame.
Once you get used to his no-frills performance, Fonda is interesting to watch in his offbeat way, and the secondary players are all good. Especially worthy of notice are Harold J. Stone as the lead detective in the Balestrero case and Doreen Lang as maybe the most awful of the many awful witnesses gathered by police.
That the police make so many mistakes is undoubtedly the point Hitchcock wants to make here, and there are times where the frightening arbitrariness of life grabbing one by the throat is made very real. "Just when you thought it was safe to walk into the insurance office" could be this film's tag line.
But after a few scenes of this, I was ready to move on. Hitch, alas, was not, and "The Wrong Man" suffers for it.
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