Wrong Man, The (1956)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle, Harrold J. Stone
Plot: True story of an innocent man mistaken for a criminal.
Genre: Crime / Drama
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“An innocent man has nothing to fear, remember that.”
In the Hitchcock oeuvre, The Wrong Man is one of his most distinctive works, not because it is a film of high distinction (at least not considered by critics to be a great film), but because it is a different film. It is at once a Hitchcockian suspense-mystery but also a quiet departure from the style, both visually and narratively, of features that he made earlier and what he would make after.
The Wrong Man remains to be an underrated Hitchcock title, seldom championed or talked about in film circles but it is worth seeing how the Master of Suspense develops a darker and more emotional piece that binds itself to reality.
Most of Hitchcock movies center on a fictional scenario, which can be incredulous and intriguing (e.g. North by Northwest (1959), The Birds (1963)) or morbid and disquieting (e.g. Rear Window (1954), Psycho (1960)). The Wrong Man is based entirely on the true story of an unlucky man called Manny Balestrero, played by the great Henry Fonda.
In a very bad case of mistaken identity, the family man is accused of being a serial armed robber and is called for police questioning, launching a series of unfortunate events that impact his family, in particular his wife (played by Vera Miles).
The beauty of watching The Wrong Man unfold is not to see whether justice is served in the end, but rather that justice becomes immaterial in light of a graver circumstance – as put forth by the wife subplot that sees her psychologically traumatized by the entire incident, attributing blame on herself for her husband's misfortune.
Hitchcock focuses on the emotions that arise from such a scenario, emotions not associated with fear in the visceral sense (of which he is known for unleashing at audiences), but the fear of losing someone who might forever be lost.
Fonda and Miles give solid performances. It's not difficult to see why Hitchcock wanted to cast Miles for Vertigo (1958), his next feature, but had to settle for the now immortalized Kim Novak. Fonda's accessibility as an everyday man figure is best captured in a gentle moment between him and his character son, an embrace between father and child that rings true with emotion, yet it is a scene you don't find often in a Hitchcock movie.
The Wrong Man is a decent albeit unconventional piece in the Hitchcock canon – it is as close to the great director making a documentary as it is a film noir in disguise.
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