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Hitchcock is the right man for suspense!
Jem Odewahn11 June 2006
This is a very underrated Hitchcock film that features amazing performances from it's two stars, Henry Fonda and (especially) Vera Miles. It is a sad, cynical offering from the Master Of Suspense that has a familiar theme (the title says it all), yet it also is perhaps one of Hitch's most unusual works.

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.
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True story-authentic locations
lreilly227 January 2005
Based pretty much on the actual events & people of a miscarriage of justice that took place in Queens County, New York in the early 50's. The names of most of the people who took part in the event are unchanged in the movie and the location shots where the actual events took place add a touch of dark realism to the movie. The basic plot revolves around a musician who worked at the world famous Stork Club who was mis-identified by witnesses and arrested because he resembled an armed robber. Hitchcock dwells on the slow descent into helplessness and powerlessness that a citizen endures as he wends his way through the NYC (or any other) criminal justice meat grinder. There are chilling shots of his transport , by paddy wagon, into the Ridgewood Felony court and the Long Island City House of Detention. The lawyer he hired, Frank O'Connor, (his real name) went on to become District Attorney of Queens county and was later heavily involved in the infamous Kitty Genovese case. Not your typical Hitchcock film but one well worth seeing if for no other reason than to see one of Henry Fonda's better performances as the quietly stunned Christopher Emmanuel (Manny) Balestrero who sees his life, career and family endangered by forces he has little control over.
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Disquieting, a steely Fonda, and amazing Hitchcock. But it might make you edgy.
secondtake11 March 2010
The Wrong Man (1956)

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 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.
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A Very Sad Drama Based on a True Story
Claudio Carvalho4 May 2005
In New York, the Catholic Italian musician of the Stork Club Christopher Emanuel "Manny" Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is a simple man, married with his beloved wife Rose (Vera Miles) and having two sons. On 14 January 1953, his wife needs an expensive teeth treatment, and Manny goes to the insurance company, trying to raise a loan. However, he is wrongly identified by a clerk as the man who robbed the place twice, being arrested and sent to jail. His friends pay the bail and he tries to prove his innocence. Meanwhile, Rose has a nervous breakdown, caused by her mistrust on his innocence, and is sent to an institution for treatment.

"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")
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And Justice for All?
James Hitchcock19 July 2005
The theme of an innocent man wrongly accused of a crime was a frequent one in Alfred Hitchcock's work, but "The Wrong Man" is very different from most of his other treatments of this theme. It is based upon a true story, and is told in a sober, semi-documentary style rather than the director's more normal thriller style. There are no cliffhangers or chase sequences and no directorial set pieces like the scene with the crop-dusting plane in "North by Northwest" or the shower scene in "Psycho", and the ending is far more downbeat than the normal triumphant finale with the villain dead or in police custody and the hero vindicated and free to marry the beautiful young heroine. (One thing the film does have in common with a more traditional thriller is a suitably eerie musical score from Bernard Herrman who also provided the music for several other Hitchcock films).

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
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Unexpected jewel from the Master
averjee19 March 1999
This is a terrific, dark, taut thriller from Hitchcock, based on a true story. Not his usual ostentatious style, but it plays on the theme of a wrong man caught up in extraordinary events beyond his control (REAR WINDOW, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, PSYCHO).

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.
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Hitchcock's scariest film
Glenn Andreiev23 November 2001
THE WRONG MAN has to be the scariest film made by Alfred Hitchcock. The driving force is it's realism. Based on a true story, we follow a struggling Queens musician (Henry Fonda) falsly accused of local robberies. We don't have suave Cary Grant dodging cropdusters or Mount Rushmore. There is no darkly funny Robert Walker making quips about murder. It's all frightfully real- the arrest process, the breakdown of Fonda's family (An incredible performance by Vera Miles as his wife) and the grueling courtroom process. The opening hour of unsmiling detectives checking Fonda's story, and watching Fonda become more defenseless is outright chilling.
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if there are films that are "under-rated", this one wold be near the top of the list
MisterWhiplash30 October 2005
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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I was the wrong man
jools_695 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
In almost an eerie coincidence I have been through exactly what this man (Fonda) went through. In my case I happened to get onto a railway carriage and sit opposite the victim of a crime a few weeks earlier.

For over a year, I like Fonda, watched with no control as people questioned, was it me? For me it was like watching a story of my own experience, the line ups, the very polite police, which they were, Hitchcock got that right, he did not try to make them monsters like many other directors would. The scared victims I saw at the line up. Going to court, the friendly lawyer, who at the same time made me feel I was doing all the legwork. I would also tell him things I felt important which he would brush off, similar to how Fonda was treated.

I am sure others who have had this happen to them will understand how scared you feel and as an honest person, I never have fully recovered from my experience.

Hats off to Hitch, he really did his homework on this one, nothing was out of place, all this really does happen and still happens, just because one person mistakes your face for a criminal's.
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False imprisonment, the most grievous of wrongs!
Nazi_Fighter_David2 February 2002
Warning: Spoilers
The response to possible injustice is all too typical of the criminal justice system... We always hear the stories of innocent persons wrongfully convicted by mistaken identification, false confessions, crime-lab fraud, jailhouse snitches, lying "expert witnesses," incompetent or uninvolved defense attorneys, and police frame-ups...

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...
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A Different Kind of Suspense
Snow Leopard3 July 2001
Although the theme of "The Wrong Man" could apply to several of Hitchcock's more famous thrillers, this movie is unique in holding closely to a series of events as they actually happened. That means there is a lot less of some of the usual Hitchcock features, such as his famous set pieces or his subtle humor. They are replaced by a different kind of suspense, still done with Hitchcock's usual craftsmanship.

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.
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Unusual Hitchcock gem
Joel I25 August 1999
Based on the true story of a quiet family man falsely indicted for armed robbery, "The Wrong Man" may not be in Hitchcock's top echelon, but it contains many of the master's touches and deserves to be better known. What is so unusual for Hitchcock is that he filmed it in a somber documentary style (in keeping with the non-fictional source of the story). He even cut out his traditional cameo, and there is not a flicker of wit anywhere, either in dialogue or image. But the film effectively explores some of Hitchcock's favorite themes (like how easily our seemingly secure lives can be disrupted) and it is marked by some masterful visual touches. Note how effortlessly Hitchcock can film a scene inside a car, seeming to expand the space. I also liked the expressionistic camera movements to suggest Fonda's emotions in a jail cell. Most memorable of all is the dissolve that reveals the real culprit. Francois Truffaut held Hitchcock to task for tainting the pure documentary style of this movie with these more cinematic flourishes, but without them, I think it would have been way too grim to watch (it's pretty grim as it is). Henry Fonda gives a fittingly unshaded performance in the title role. And Bernard Herrmann's score is subtly effective, especially in the title sequence.
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A unique Hitchcock classic, involving and affecting
Christopher Reid28 January 2016
Henry Fonda is a bass player for a band in the Stork Club in New York City. The club is real and they filmed scenes inside the actual club. Vera Miles is his loving wife and they have two boys. He is wrongfully accused of a crime and we share his experience. That's the basic premise of this movie. It's all based on a true story and as I understand, it's quite accurate. This movie is very different from Hitchcock's other films. He even introduces it himself in person, speaking directly to the audience explaining so.

Normally, Hitchcock films revolve around murder, intrigue, suspense, the anticipation of disaster, deception, extreme human emotions like paranoia and obsession, characters doing risky things and hoping to not get caught. The Wrong Man is unique among his films that I've seen. We simply go through the motions of a man being mistakenly arrested. It's a scary concept but one that is obviously realistic. Many innocent people have been put to death or spent years in jail. And this movie delves into the kinds of emotions such a disturbing turn of events could provoke.

I think it works because it focuses on Henry Fonda's point of view. We put ourselves in his shoes and feel his growing frustration and apprehension. The cops seem more like mean mob gangsters than righteous police officers. They treat him the way perhaps a violent criminal might deserve. But knowing he's innocent turns the crime back on the police. They take him through some tests and assure him that an innocent man has nothing to worry about. But they are increasingly brusk and it seems clear that they quickly find his innocence laughable.

I recognised Herrmann's style early on. It's such great music. I love his motifs. Little slices of melody repeating with harmonic tension coming and going. It just works so well. It really enriches the movie and adds to the atmosphere.

I love Hitchcock's direction. It really brings out emotion. We get quiet, close shots. Low angles, shadows. But mainly in key parts, not constantly. The film suddenly becomes dream-like but not in an obvious way. We feel as though time slows down and we meditate on this moment that lasts an eternity. Is that the killer? I can't bear to look. He focuses on what the characters are seeing and how they feel about it. The camera-work reflects their mental states.

Fonda's innocent, fearful face is haunting. His wide open eyes. His confused, concerned expression. How is this possible? Is this really happening? He is so calm under the circumstances. They casually deny him the right to first speak to his wife. He's always on time and doesn't want her to be concerned. When he finally gets a temporary break from his ordeal, a relief from having his freedom abruptly taken away, he nearly collapses. Suddenly the weight of it hits him. He didn't have time to feel anxious, he was in survival mode. It reminds me of Tom Hanks at the end of Captain Philips or even the way you seem to sweat more *after* you finish running than during.

There is a scene with a lawyer where Vera Miles visibly withers during a shot. It's subtle but powerful. You feel this cold hopelessness fall upon her. Resignation to her husband's fate. Any sane person would go insane in such a situation. There is no way to rationally accept that your loved one will be wrongfully put away in jail and there's nothing you can do about it. We want to feel hope and probably she does as well. But subconsciously she knows the chances are slim. And such thoughts can consume you.

The Wrong Man may seem like a simple movie. No complicated plot or side-plots or too many characters. Not many twists really. Its suspense is in the slow torture of everything going wrong for an innocent man with a nice family. It can be hard to watch at times. But it observes the human emotions involved so honestly. We enjoy it because we really feel something and connect with the characters.

It raises some moral questions as well. What kind of a legal system allows such errors, such injustices? The unnecessary stress and pain caused could be incalculable. I admire the way this film was made and it was every bit as tense and engaging as Hitchcock's other masterpieces. It is also quite moving and I even feel like I developed a love for the characters. I wanted to hug them and comfort them. I don't know how I would cope in such a situation.
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The wrong one is right...
jc-osms19 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Almost everything about this Hitchcock move is atypical - audiences keen for his sometimes convoluted, twisty - turny adventure - style would be jolted to reality with this excellent almost docu-drama. Apart from perhaps only two scenes where Hitch flexes his stylised muscles - the "hanging" scene in Henry Fonda's cell and the superimposition of the actual crime perpetrator's face over Fonda's at his moment of darkest despair, the rest is gritty, black and white exposition. Even the title eschews artifice. I wonder if the true story on which the film was based also turned on Fonda's unwitting error in transcribing the spelling mistake in the true robber's demand note, if so, then truth really is stranger than fiction else it would surely count as one of Hitchcock's most outrageous coincidences. Henry Fonda, who actually had hoped he would be starring in a James Stewart / Cary Grant type fast paced romp a la "To Catch a Thief" or "The Man who Knew too Much", adapts wonderfully to the much deeper demands of the lead role. I know this was filmed around the time of his award - winning lead in "12 Angry Men" but this performance is just as deserving. Reacting against the prevailing Actor's school "method" approach, he almost underplays his part and engages the viewer immediately. Vera Miles is also fine as his troubled wife who blames herself for causing her husband's troubles, the policemen parts, played by lesser known actors heighten Fonda's Kafka-type nightmare against anonymous automatons "just doing their job". Even the scenes with their kids are refreshingly schmaltz-free. The religious symbolism is a little heavy - handed at times for my tastes but this excellent film at once broadens and deepens one's appreciation of the Master at the height of his powers.
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Bare bones Hitchcock.
Michael DeZubiria3 March 2007
I think pretty much every lesser known Hitchcock film has a whole society of people who call it "one of Hitchcock's great unsung masterpieces," and The Wrong Man is no different. The wrong man theme is one of Hitchcock's favorites and he has used it a great many times to create some of his most suspenseful films, and he uses that and almost nothing else to create the considerable suspense in this film.

Hitchcock had a genuine fear of the police, and you can see it in many of his films, this one more than most. Henry Fonda delivers a wonderful performance as a regular man who just wants to be a good man and a good husband, but suddenly finds himself embroiled in this case of mistaken identity. The film is structured differently from a lot of his other films, which often showed a man forced into isolation by misplaced accusations, only to slowly reveal himself to be a hero and gradually get the girl, who paid him no attention at the beginning of the film.

(spoilers) In this film, Christopher Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is never a hero nor does he try to be, and his wife not only does not gradually grow more and more fond of him despite the accusations against him, but she grows more and more distant due to the accusations.

Hitchcock personally introduces the film in his only speaking role in any of his movies (he introduced his television series episodes, but mostly as comic relief), and warns that the movie is completely true and absolutely frightening. It is a successful adaptation of a true story, although clearly highly polished to satisfy the studio. Definitely one of Hitchcock's more notable efforts.
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More Kafka Than Hitchcock
bkoganbing24 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The problem that most people have with The Wrong Man is that it's not the Alfred Hitchcock we've come to expect. No unflappable hero like Cary Grant, no cool blonds to accompany the hero like Madeleine Carroll, or Grace Kelly, no McGuffin as Hitchcock always describes the object everyone is after in his films.

The object our protagonist, in this case Henry Fonda, is after is to clear his good name. And The Wrong Man is based on the true story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero who apart from working odd hours due to his job is your average normal family man. Fonda is a bass fiddle player in the orchestra at the famous swanky Stork Club in Manhattan.

Fonda's Kafkaesque nightmare starts when wife Vera Miles needs some ready cash so he goes to borrow on his insurance policy. His dumb luck to walk into the insurance office and look like a man who had held the place up before. Fonda's even wearing the same type clothes.

The insurance company calls the police and Detective Harold J. Stone is assigned. Remember this was the days before Miranda warnings were mandatory, otherwise had Fonda called a lawyer right then and there, he might not have gotten in this mess. Stone convinces himself he's got the right man and Fonda is arrested.

When the police think they are on the right track it's mighty hard to dissuade them. Back when I was a working person as an investigator for the NYS Crime Victims Board, I handled a couple of claims arising out of the break-in murder of a lesbian woman in Brooklyn in 1995. The woman's partner was also injured by the same man who broke in. However the police were absolutely convinced that the partner herself had a hand in the killing. They told that to one and all who would listen including me in my official capacity. The partner's claim was held up as a result of this.

As it turned out the police on a totally different case arrested a man who confessed to the break-in murder/robbery. Now the partner was never arrested as Henry Fonda was, but she was under suspicion by all because the police investigating went on a totally different track. The surviving partner eventually got all that was due her by my agency. So I'm here to tell you that these things can and do happen in real life and the case of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero was no aberration.

Actually though, as good as Fonda is in the part, the best work in the film is done by Vera Miles. She blamed herself and her mismanaging of the household finances as the reason for her husband's troubles. She suffers a complete mental breakdown as a result. Vera's performance was Oscar caliber stuff, it should have been considered by the Academy.

Although it would seem a most odd choice for the role, British actor Anthony Quayle played Frank D. O'Connor, former State Senator, who defended Balestrero. O'Connor later worked the other side of the courtroom when he became District Attorney of Queens County, President of the New York City Council and Democratic candidate for Governor in 1966 against Nelson Rockefeller. O'Connor later went to the New York State Supreme Court where he was well respected. I'm sure O'Connor in real life was pleased with the way Anthony Quayle played him.

Though a film like this would be more identified with someone like Jules Dassin, Alfred Hitchcock did a fine job. Pity the film was not better received because the movie going public expected certain things from a Hitchcock film.
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Hitchcock without the gimmicks...
Neil Doyle26 October 2006
THE WRONG MAN is a bleak Alfred Hitchcock movie filmed in suitably low-key style with crisp B&W photography and two very deeply felt performances by HENRY FONDA and VERA MILES.

Hitch's fear of police (traumatic experience as a youth) serves him well in crafting the kind of intimidation a man feels when he's unjustly accused of a crime he hasn't committed. Eyewitnesses place him at the scene of the crime and the police are ready to lock him up and put him away in prison.

The only one who believes in him (or his innocence) is his wife, VERA MILES, but she begins to undergo serious mental stress as the situation seems to get more and more hopeless. Eventually, she is driven to the brink of insanity and her heart hardens toward her husband. Vera Miles is excellent in the role, subtle and completely believable.

What distinguishes THE WRONG MAN from other Hitchcock films is that it's all filmed in a brisk, documentary style that leaves no room for the usual gimmicks. It's about as straightforward in its story-telling manner as any of his films has ever been, based on a true life incident in the life of a man falsely accused.

Summing up: Well worth watching, but not unless you're willing to be more than a little depressed by the somber mood.
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Cinema is truth at 24 frames a second.
bobsgrock29 May 2009
Never has this been more abundantly clear than in Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man, a true story about a simple, hard-working musician who is mistaken for being a local robber that has eluded the police for some time. Ripped from the headlines, Hitchcock employs some of the themes he used in nearly every one of his films, including mistaken identity and being accused for something you didn't do.

Along with I Confess, a dark mystery about a priest trying to clear his name, this is one of the more serious Hitchcock films that feels more realistic than anything else he did in his long, illustrious career. Shot in black and white at a time when Hitchcock was exploiting the advantages of Vista Vision and Technicolor, he makes the most of the dark and sinister streets of New York City where some of the scenes were shot. The cast also bolsters strong performances from Henry Fonda as the accused Manny and Vera Miles as his supportive wife Rose. This certainly was a sidestep for Hitchcock, but it still works thanks to very good performances, harsh camera work and a story that shows us that even in this country where you are innocent until proved guilty, you sometimes aren't.
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"We're bookin' this man for robbery, Lieutenant."
classicsoncall7 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I wasn't aware of this Hitchcock 'true story' until I ran across it today, and it proved to be an edgy and haunting film, especially when one realizes that it could happen to you. Watching it, I was drawn into Manny Balestrero's (Henry Fonda) ordeal, and not so much as a viewer, but as someone undergoing the excruciating uncertainty of what was going to happen if this mess wasn't straightened out. In that regard, the somber musical score adds even more tension to the grim story, and I felt myself getting almost suffocated by Manny's dilemma.

You knew it was going to be different from the usual Hitchcock fare when the director appears before the movie to announce that the story was based on an actual event. Hitch's trademark cameo is noticeably absent, and that was by design. The almost documentary style of the film was entirely story boarded to the most minor detail, the way Hitchcock liked to work, so that by the time it got to filming it was almost like a bother to the director. Yet the end product is a haunting and moving story that's as effective as any of Hitchcock's best thrillers.

Henry Fonda excels in his portrayal of Manny, coming across as your typical everyday Joe. He has a happy marriage and two kids he adores, but once caught up in the ordeal of finding a lawyer, looking for witnesses that will clear him, and working to pay off his growing debt load, his wife Rose (Vera Miles) slowly succumbs to depression and paranoia. The second half of the film in a way becomes her story, as her condition requires professional help and assignment to a sanitarium rest home. As somber as the tone of the story is already, Rose's declining mental stability would have been the straw to break most men in Manny's situation.

The film makes use of overt Catholic symbolism with devices like Manny's rosary at the police station, and a picture of Jesus in the latter part of the story. Balestrero's faith is conveyed to be a factor in the resolution of his legal case, as the real thief that Manny was mistaken for is caught in the same neighborhood committing a similar crime. I thought it would have been much more vindicating for Manny to confront his original accusers the way he did the man who was arrested; I certainly felt like lashing out at those two women for sending this man and his family into a living nightmare.

It's not unusual that Alfred Hitchcock would find this real life story a fascinating topic for a movie, considering he dealt with fictional cases of mistaken identity in films like "North By Northwest". All too well though, "The Wrong Man" is one of those stories that help assert the fact that truth sometimes, is stranger than fiction.
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Overlooked Masterpiece
The name of Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, is and will be eternally linked to his most well-known masterpieces such as "Psycho" or "The Birds"; sadly, this has left "The Wrong Man" in the obscurity as an overlooked gem that in fact deserves to be seen and appreciated by film enthusiasts worldwide.

The true story of Emmanuel Ballestrero (played superbly by Henry Fonda) and his unfair imprisonment when he is accused of a crime he did not commit, is represented faithfully in Hitchcock's "The Wrong Man", with all its frightening realism.

The most important thing about this movie must be the fact that it is based on a real life tragedy, this is a big difference from the rest of the Hitchcock's work. The Master adds more realism to the movie by keeping a low profile direction, almost in a documentary style. Gone are the camera tricks, the contrived plots and the suspense; in "The Wrong Man" we have a scary noir-esquire tale of crime in its more realistic way. In fact, Hitchcock himself decided to turn his cameo into an "introductory speech" because he felt that a cameo would take away the realism of the movie.

As I wrote above, the script is very simple, and without plot twists or a clear McGuffin to look at; nevertheless, the master guides us through the suffering of this man as he is humiliated by the police in sheer realism. Hitchcock takes away his characteristic dark humor and gives us a grim tale of injustice, probably fueled by his own terrible fear of police. This fear is latent in every frame, and the fear of imprisonment is particularly shown in all its scary magnitude when Ballestrero is locked for the first time, the camera gives depth to his prison and Fonda's expression is superb.

Henry Fonda gives one of his best performances ever, as the quiet every man who works as a musician in a bar. It is a very realistic performance that alone worths the price of the movie. I dare to say that this is probably Fonda's best role. The rest of the cast is average but its understandable because the movie is completely focused on Fonda, all of them give very natural acting that fits the tone of the movie. Notable exception is Vera Miles, who gives a Tour-De-Force in his representation of Ballestrero's wife, who suffers a nervous breakdown when his husband is in jail. Vera's acting is outstanding and her performance shows the mental decay that Mrs. Ballestrero suffered in real life with scary realism.

As you probably have noticed, the perfect description for this movie is "scary realism", that is what "The Wrong Man" is, a realistic portrait of a tale of injustice and how a man had to go through hell just because the justice had picked, the Wrong Man 9/10. Overlooked gem.
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An Highly Recommended Hitchcock Classic !!
Femme_Fatale_198325 August 2001
Before i watched The Wrong Man, a lot of people were saying bad things about it, saying it was one of hitchcock's masterpieces gone wrong... and that the acting was wooden and the rest of it, but whatever you do, do not listen to any negative comments about this film!! it is absolutely brilliant !!! It was Hitchcocks first and only documentary style thriller and it works beautifully i think !!! It's based on a true story and i love the opening sequence when Hitchcock tells you about it being a true story... it is very different to any other Hitchcock film you've ever and i think will ever see, but it's brilliant. In my opinion he should have done more films like this.... Also Henry Fonda is absolutely wonderful as Manny... the whole way he handles the situation is wonderful to watch.... Also Vera Miles is amazing as the distressed wife... her perhaps best performance on screen !!

Over all my last words to you would be ... don't listen to negative reports go out and see this film !! it's brilliant and definitely a new and unique Hitchcock Film !!!!!!!!

A must see for all Hitchcock fans !!!
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Innocence, Injustice & Insanity
seymourblack-130 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
It's well documented that Alfred Hitchcock believed that anyone could easily find themselves wrongly imprisoned for a crime that they didn't commit and the abiding fear that this induced not only explains his natural interest in bringing the story of "The Wrong Man" to the screen but also provides an insight into why he made the movie in the style that he did. Its straightforward story is presented in an understated way which dispenses with any content which could possibly distract from the sheer horror of the events depicted and his usual cameo appearance is replaced by an introduction in which his heavily shadowed figure emphasises to the audience that the story they are about to see is, in fact, true.

"The Wrong Man" contains neo-realist and documentary influences and the fact that so many of its scenes were shot in the locations where the actual events took place is evidence of the strong efforts that were made to make the movie as authentic as possible.

Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is a modestly paid night club bass player and he and his wife Rose (Vera Miles) have to consistently budget very carefully and cope with periodic financial traumas just in order to get by. When Rose needs to have some expensive dental treatment and the funds aren't readily available, Manny goes to an insurance company's office to check whether it would be possible for them to apply for a loan by using Rose's insurance policy as collateral. The office clerks think they recognise him as the man who'd recently robbed their office and so they report their suspicions to the police.

A police car is parked outside Manny's home when he returns from the insurance office and he's immediately taken into custody, questioned and then driven to a series of businesses which have recently been robbed so that the proprietors can give their opinions on whether they consider that Manny is the man who carried out the robberies. The information gathered from these people and the insurance clerks convince the police that Manny is indeed the perpetrator. In a further check, one of the detectives asks Manny to write out a copy of the wording of a note used by the thief in one of the robberies and when Manny misspells the word "drawer" in the same way that the hold up man did, he's duly charged, fingerprinted and put in a cell.

Manny's sister and brother-in-law pay his bail and Manny then retains a lawyer called Frank O'Connor (Anthony Quayle) to represent him. O'Connor advises Manny to try to establish where he was at the times when the various robberies were carried out. Manny and Rose fail to locate the three witnesses who could have confirmed where Manny was when the first robbery was carried out as two of the men had since died and the third couldn't be traced. The couple are naturally disappointed but even worse; Rose starts to blame herself for their misfortune and becomes convinced that their predicament is hopeless. She becomes increasingly depressed and has to be admitted to a sanitarium for treatment. Some time later, the real culprit is apprehended and Manny is exonerated but when he informs Rose, she tragically shows no elation or reaction of any type.

Henry Fonda is exceptional as a thoroughly decent man who becomes the victim of a great injustice and someone who deals with his ordeal with immense dignity and a considerable amount of stoicism. The way in which he conveys all the fear, confusion and despair that Manny endures is even more noteworthy and commendable because his character is a humble and naturally undemonstrative person.

Vera Miles is outstanding as the loyal and well meaning wife who blames herself for Manny's predicament which she feels was caused by her inability to manage the domestic finances more successfully. This and the additional anguish she experiences when she becomes convinced that the battle to prove Manny's innocence is futile, make her so despondent that she suffers a mental breakdown.

"The Wrong Man" shows just how terrifying the experience of being wrongly identified as a criminal can be and how remote the prospect of justice can seem once a victim is caught up in what seems to be an unstoppable police process where the word of the accused carries no power whatsoever. The fact that everyone else who's connected with the process seems so unconcerned about what's happening just makes the innocent man's predicament even more cruel and the devastating effect the experience has on his life is absolutely harrowing to watch.

This is a genuinely frightening and affecting movie in which the story is incredibly powerful but also one which is very under-appreciated compared to so many of Hitchcock's other films.
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A Journey In Darkness
Bill Slocum16 November 2009
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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One of Hitchcock's best films, and a departure
Camoo3 August 2013
The Wrong Man is a unique Hitchcock picture, one that exists in a parallel Hitchcockian universe, a stark procedural drama and exercise in controlled filmmaking combined. The film is technically flawless, and Hitchcock uses editing, sound and image to such an effect that we immediately believe that we are there and that it could happen to us.

Chirpy dialogue, colorful characters and staged design often cushion the suspenseful atmosphere found in other Hitchcock films, The Wrong Man provides us with none of those comforts. Instead we are left out in the cold like the protagonist - claustrophobic and drained.

I can see why this was Truffaut's favorite Hitchcock picture, any admirer of the craft will immediately latch on to and appreciate the technical proficiency that went into telling this story. Sparse on dialogue, heavy on atmosphere The Wrong Man is relentless and one of the most intense of Hitchcock's films.
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Forget it is Hitchcock and appreciate it
bandw22 July 2011
I think this movie would have been universally praised if Hitchcock had used an assumed name to direct it, since a lot of the negative comments are to the effect that it is not a typical Hitchcock. And that is the case, since this is a straightforward telling of what is presented as a true story of a man falsely accused of robberies. And there is no twist at the end. However, there is some truly great work here. Consider the opening credit scenes that have Henry Fonda (as Manny Balestrero) playing the bass in a small orchestra in New York's Stork Club. At the start of the sequence there is a ballroom full of dancers and, as the credits go on, one scene morphs into another with each successive scene having fewer dancers. By the end of the credits we are down to closing time and Manny is heading home. Brilliant opening credits auguring good things to come.

The movie has some of the of the best black and white cinematography ever. Whether it is a car moving across a bridge through light and shadows or a close-up of a woman's eye peering suspiciously at us, the cinematography alone held my attention.

Fonda and Vera Miles do a great job in playing how a man and his wife react to false accusations, with Fonda playing the innocent who is trying to deal with a bad situation in a most responsible and rational manner and Miles cracking under the pressure. Fonda says a lot with his eye movements--a quick glance to the side or a disbelieving stare tell us a lot. I always wonder who gets the credit for such effective use of what movies can uniquely portray. Is it the director, the cinematographer, the art director, the actor?

For me the emotional involvement was established by considering how I would react to such a case of false accusation and arrest. And, equally importantly, how would I handle dealing with a wife buckling under the pressure. Probably not as well as the Fonda character. The backdrops are rather grungy--stark bare walls, crumbling plaster, exposed lamp cords, claustrophobic jail cells, sparsely furnished court rooms. Interesting to note that this was filmed a decade before the Miranda warning requirement. You get so used to seeing that in crime dramas that you miss it when it is not there.

The Bernard Hermann score is not as prominent as many of his are. Much of it is played on the bass; a tie-in to Manny's profession?
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