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
The Manny Balestero case was covered on a 1953 episode of Robert Montgomery Presents called "A Case of Identity". Robert Ellenstein played Manny. See more »
When Manny is charged his height according to the chart behind him changes from around 6 .2" to over 7ft. 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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if there are films that are "under-rated", this one wold be near the top of the list
After sitting through The Wrong Man, it puzzles me greatly why this film isn't seen by more, or rated as highly as some of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces. True, he does seem to be subverting his style slightly for the story, which is at the core a tragedy of a man falsely accused (and maybe not with the same tension we'd expect like in Strangers on a Train or Psycho). But to me it shows him really with an experimental edge that just seemed to really strike me. This is Hitchcock going for something Kafkaesque ala the Trial, and on that level the film is downright scary at times.
Though Henry Fonda's Manny Balestero is told of his charge after being arrested, the whole 'procedural' nature of the film's story, of how the system can be the damnedest thing, makes it downright gripping. Like with the Master's other films, one can see the suspense at times almost sweating through the frame, and the kind of Cold-War era paranoia that works magnificently (like when Manny is at the insurance office, where the plot thickens), along with the sort of Joseph K. quality to the lead of being presumed guilty more than being presumed innocent.
But there is also something very powerful, and challenging, about the casting of the lead. In a sense Hitchcock was one step ahead of Sergio Leone, who would do something similar with Once Upon a Time in the West (though Leone was going for a lot more twisting the genre screws). It's a filmmaker saying, 'look, I'm giving you Henry Fonda, maybe the most, if not one of the most, good-hearted movie stars from the 40's- Grapes of Wrath, My Darling Clementine, The Lady Eve, etc- but I'm putting him in a situation where he's in this strange scenario of not playing himself, or rather being in a society that is brutal and unflinching'.
Fonda was the perfect choice considering the material, and while it is based on a true story and Fonda is terrific at his role, that Hitchcock leaves out certain details of his innocence (says the trivia on IMDb) adds a certain level to the subject matter. Maybe he is guilty and we just are too gullible to think it? How long can all this doomed atmosphere continue? On an existential level almost Hitchcock delivers a kind of very recognizable world with the terror on a different but just as engaging level as his 'popular' films.
If Fonda is our fatefully unlucky protagonist, Vera Miles is equally compelling as his wife, who can't seem to take what has been going on with her husband. If there is some sense of pitch black satire amid the "true-story" drama of the story, she is the representation of paranoia affecting a seemingly good person. Why this happens exactly to Rose Ballestero, her descent into a kind of closed-off madness, isn't made entirely clear (again, Kafka), and the conclusion to the film brings something that I was hoping would happen, and did, and makes for something far more challenging than if a standard Hollywood director would've tackled the material.
Using real locations in NYC, the great many character actors that make up the police and everyday people (there is some very good casting in the insurance office scene), and a musical score that is decidedly vintage Herrmann, Hitchcock uses this sort of documentary realism to heighten his own subjective approach (all the images of prison bars, the film-noir type lighting and staging, the use of space in the rooms). It all works to help the story, which goes against the grain of the 50's era thriller, and it works extremely well.
In fact, for my money, I would rank this among my top five or so favorites in Hitchcock's whole oeuvre. It's a bold statement to be sure, but for the particular cinema fan, this brings on entertainment on a truly dramatic scale and, until a certain point I won't mention, is unrelenting.
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