The Wrong Man (1956)
User ReviewsAdd a Review
The films runs more like a documentary in it's approach, and it feels inherently 'real'. The casting of 'everyman' Fonda in the role of Manny Balestero, a man accused of crimes he did not commit, works very well as we can feel empathy for Fonda and place ourselves in his position. Ditto with Miles. She is so convincing in her role as the mentally fragile wife Rose that her scenes are almost uncomfortable to witness. Portraying a person self-destructing is one of the hardest tasks an actor can face, but Miles does it subtly and movingly. It is a brilliant performance that ranks alongside Bergman's role in 'Notorious' and Wright's 'Charlie' in 'Shadow Of A Doubt' for best female acting honors in a Hitchcock film.
'The Wrong Man' has a sentimental, tender yet dark atmosphere. The sentimentality is perhaps due to the fact that the central action revolves around a family grouping in this film.There are no elaborate scenes of courtship and romance as in 'Vertigo' or sexy double entendres seen in 'Notorious'- Instead, we get the feeling that this is a real, normal family we are watching unravel at the seams due to the crimes of another.
Appropriately slow-moving to keep in check with Hitch's low-key approach for this one. New York in the 1950's was possibly never photographed so darkly real as it is here. Boasting great performances from the two leads, this is a must-see Hitchcock.
There's no question Alfred Hitchcock has pulled off something amazing here, a kind of experiment. Entirely based on true events, and without any sense of chase, romance, or high intrigue, and without special effects or even witty dialog, he makes you feel for the main character, Henry Fonda, a man accused of a crime he did not commit.
It's often pointed out that Hitchcock had an enormous fear of the police, and of being accused when innocent. This shows up in many of his films, but never more clearly or more painfully than here. To watch is an adventure in frustration, almost to the point you have to turn it off. But of course, you can't just get up and leave. You have to know what happens.
And the turns of events are so reasonable and yet so unbearable, you just want to get up there and say, do this, do that! It's weird to say, this is not an enjoyable movie. But it's a very good one, maybe flawless in its attempt to trap you as much as the main character was trapped. The surrounding cast is terribly believable, the cops, the wife, the kids. And it unfolds with such dramatic relentlessness. The camera angles (thanks to Robert Burks) are psychologically intense (and edited for discomfort). And the music (Bernard Herrmann, soon to score Psycho) only adds more tension.
Beautifully. As an exercise in precision, and in sticking to the facts, this is as good as a dramatic (non-documentary) film can get. Wikipedia has a small amount of helpful information, and tcm.com has a lot (click on articles or reviews on the left for a range of texts). But of course, watch it straight. See some period New York City scenes (from streets to jails to what looks like the amazing 57th St. bridge at dusk). A wonderful, if not uplifting, movie.
"The Wrong Man" is a very sad and touching story of the injustice against an innocent man, affecting the health of his family. Henry Fonda is amazing in the role of an ordinary man, who accepts passively the situations, believing on God and praying for strength and justice. Vera Miles is fantastic in the role of a wife who believe she has part of the guilty for the action of her beloved husband. This movie was filmed in many authentic locations, and is a very different work of Alfred Hitchcock. Maybe due to the theme be so serious, Hitchcock appears only introducing of the story, and does not have any other small participations as he usually does in his movies. The black and white photography, with shadows, and the score of Bernard Herrmann, complete the magnificence of this great underrated movie. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "O Homem Errado" ("The Wrong Man")
The central character is Emmanuel Balestrero, a musician employed in a New York nightclub, a devoted husband and the father of two young sons. After visiting an insurance company to borrow some money against his wife's policy, Balestrero is arrested and told that he has been identified as the man who carried out two robberies at the company's offices. He protests his innocence but further witnesses come forward to allege that he was involved in other robberies. He is released on bail, and manages to find a lawyer to take on the case, but has difficulty in establishing an alibi that will clear his name. The action culminates in a trial scene, something of a rarity in Hitchcock's work. Although he was fascinated by the law and the criminal justice system, he preferred to create an atmosphere of physical menace rather than rely on the verbal duels of the traditional courtroom drama.
Parallel to the story of Balestrero's fight to establish his innocence is the story of his wife, Rose. Another of Hitchcock's interests, one often reflected in his work, was psychology, often but not always the psychology of the criminal mind. This interest is explored most deeply in "Spellbound", but it also appears in films such as "Strangers on a Train" and "Psycho"; both Bruno Anthony and Norman Bates can be seen as psychological case studies. In "The Wrong Man" the stress of her husband's ordeal affects Rose's mind, and she suffers first from depression, then from paranoia. She suffers a breakdown and is committed to a mental hospital. Vera Miles gives a particularly fine performance as Rose, contrasting with Henry Fonda's baffled but stoical Balestrero.
The film is not "scary" in the way that a normal Hitchcock thriller is scary, but is nevertheless frightening. In the average thriller, we feel anxiety on behalf of the hero; here we feel anxiety not only on behalf of Balestrero, who runs the risk of being imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, but also on behalf of society as a whole. This is one Hitchcock film with a serious message, intended to show that miscarriages of justice can occur all too easily. The director emphasised this message in the opening spoken prologue in which he addresses the camera directly, a prologue that replaces his normal cameo appearance. The possibility of an innocent man going to jail is all the more chilling for the fact that no-one has given perjured evidence or deliberately attempted to frame Balestrero. The witnesses genuinely believe that he is the guilty man, and the police remain dispassionate throughout. Certainly, some of the elements of criminal procedure shown would not be permissible today (suspects being arrested without being informed of their rights or of the crime of which they are suspected, interviews being conducted without a written or taped record being kept, two witnesses allowed to be present together during an identification parade), but this does not lessen the film's impact; anyone with any knowledge of the law will be aware that innocent people can still be convicted in the twenty-first century.
Apart from "Psycho" this was Hitchcock's last film made in black and white, and he makes good use of the medium, with some striking photography. Particularly notable is his use of close-ups, such as of the witnesses when they think they recognise Balestrero as the robber, or of Vera Miles's face to illustrate Rose's emotional turmoil. This is a stark, sombre film, a memorable departure from the normal Hitchcock style. 7/10
It may be Hitchcock's most cynical film. Henry Fonda plays a man falsely accused of armed robbery. He is a quiet man, whose life gets turned upside down as a result.
Hitchcock spares us nothing of the horror of the predicament of Fonda's situation. He shows many of the details of how Fonda is accused, arrested, and tried in real time, so we are as fully worn down as the protagonist.
The plot was quite unbelievable by 1950s standards that Hitch needed all the realism he could muster. For example, Hitchcock himself introduces the film in a prologue, to verify that it is indeed based on a true story. Also, don't look for his trademark cameo - he did shoot a scene where he was a customer in a store, but that scene ended up getting cut. Hitchcock personally interviewed all of the participants in the real live drama. And the doctor at the sanitarium is played not by an actor, but by a real doctor.
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.
Criminologists have known that eyewitnesses are as likely to be wrong as right... But despite the undeniable fact that an eyewitness is no better than a flip of a coin, police, prosecutors and juries put great weight on eyewitness evidence even in cases where suspects have unshakable alibis...
False confessions arise from any number of known reasons... Yet once police get a confession (even ones they invent) prosecutors take for granted the reliability of the confession...
The Mexican public, especially "law and order" conservatives, must come to grips with the fact that our criminal justice system increasingly serves causes other than justice... Finding a suspect and convicting him is more important to many police and prosecutors than getting the right man...
The ease with which innocents can be railroaded is scary enough... But the obstructions that prosecutors raise to the release of inmates known to be innocent reveals an inhumanity that is frightening...
The Mexican justice system is loaded against the wrongfully convicted... Consequently, the wrongfully convicted serve longer terms than the guilty... No one knows how many people are wrongly imprisoned... But in every part of this world, the problem is clearly too large to ignore...
'The Wrong Man' concerns Christopher Emmuanuel 'Manny' Balestrero (Henry Fonda), a family man and a New York jazz musician, with a devoted wife and two young boys, wrongly identified by several witnesses as the perpetrator of a number of hold-up...
The evidence is against him because he fits the description! The actual criminal looks almost identical to him... In minute detail we watch him being humiliated by the process of justice that is supposed to protect him...
From his arrest to his fingerprinting, handcuffing, and jailing, we follow, with real anguish, how an innocent man is intimidated and humiliated... Fonda's characters were often associated with injustice, most notably in 'Let Us Leave,' and 'The Ox-Bow Incident.'
By imposing his own highly individual style, Hitchcock treats this incident as if it really was a miracle... For if the picture points out anything, it is that justice can be vindictive and cruel and that anyone could become the wrong man...
Vera Miles is well cast as Manny's disturbed wife who slowly loses her sanity while her husband awaits trial... Her slow transformation from an outraged citizen into an apathetic mental case is handled sensitively...
Anthony Quayle is excellent as Fonda's attorney, and Harold Stone is very good as Lt. Bowers...
Photographed in Black and White, 'The Wrong Man' is a nightmare of reality that could happen to anyone...
Henry Fonda and Vera Miles play a factual ordinary couple whose lives are thrown into turmoil when the police confuse the husband with a man who has been committing a series of robberies. The first part of the movie concentrates on the nightmare he undergoes in being interrogated, jailed, and arraigned. Fonda's convincing acting, along with Hitchcock's detail-oriented filming, enable the viewer to feel the anxiety and helplessness of an innocent man being horribly misjudged. In the second part of the movie, as Fonda gets ready to go to trial, the ordeal finally starts to take its toll on his wife.
Although this has to be ranked as a minor work compared to Hitchcock's long list of masterpieces, it is a worthwhile film in its own right, as long as you have the right expectations in watching it. It can be quite uncomfortable to watch these things happen when you know that it all really occurred, and Hitchcock uses his skill to help us see just what an ordeal it was.