THE WRONG MAN
Review by Ed Nguyen
Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Audio: English, French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Video: Black & white, matted widescreen
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Making-of documentary, trailer
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2004
you see I'm just trying to tell the truth?"
most Hitchcock fans know, one of the Master of Suspense's favorite themes was
that of an innocent man being pursued for a crime he did not commit.
From Hitchcock's earliest films, such as The
39 Steps, to some of his final classics, like North
by Northwest, the director returned again and again to this theme,
continually exploring different approaches which would challenge the master
director's ability to find new ways of telling a familiar tale.
In The Wrong Man (1956),
Hitchcock used a true-life story as the basis for his film, the first time in
his career he had done so.
Wrong Man is
a tale of a musician, Christopher Emanuel "Manny" Balestrero
(compassionately portrayed by Henry Fonda), wrongly accused of a series of
neighborhood robberies. Manny is
the Hitchcockian Average Joe, an innocent victim of unjust persecution.
He works a bassist at the Stork Club (an actual New York City jazz club),
but after January 1953, his life will change forever.
one fateful day in January, Manny goes to a local insurance company to inquire
about a possible loan to help pay for his wife's dental surgery.
Unbeknownst to him, Manny closely resembles a burglar who has just
recently robbed that very same office. Discreet
calls are soon made to the police, and when more witnesses around the
neighborhood begin to erroneously identify Manny as the culprit behind other
recent robberies, chaos and disarray soon descend upon this mild man's life.
is questioned by the police, arrested, and ultimately thrown into jail.
His loyal and loving wife Rose (Vera Miles) helps to arrange for his
bail, an expense the couple can hardly afford.
Rose at first stands by his side and even helps Manny to locate witnesses
who might be able to support his alibi and prove his innocence.
However, the constant stress and worries over the upcoming trial
eventually prove to be too much for Rose, and she finally breaks down.
Rose, Vera Miles offers one of the strongest performances of her career.
She had originally been cast to work with Hitchcock in Vertigo
(her role was later filled by Kim Novak when Miles became pregnant).
By the time of pre-production for The
Wrong Man, Vera Miles was again available, and was subsequently cast in this
Fonda also offers a strong performance as Manny. He is the Everyman, an unassuming citizen just going about
his daily routines. He is a kind
father, a dedicated husband, and a good son.
Fonda's Manny is so easily identifiable to audiences that we empathize
deeply with him; his subsequent persecution becomes frustrating at times to
watch impassively, for we the audience are alone in our knowledge of his true
innocence. As the scales of justice
tip against him and the false accusations rain upon Manny, we feel the pain and
internal torment of this innocent man. The
weight of such pressure threatens to collapse our resolve as much at it does
Rose's, so torn is she between her own need to remain by Manny's side and her
lingering, guilty doubts about his innocence. In real life, the wife was indeed institutionalized, and
Hitchcock's deft direction allows us to vicariously feel the pressures which
might have driven her (and likewise, us) insane.
on, Hitchcock quickly recognized the heavy tone which would pervade over the
film. The Wrong Man is a dark film with essentially no light moments to
relieve tension. Hitchcock even
decided to forgo his usual cameo appearance (appearing instead briefly in
silhouette before the opening credits to introduce the film) so as not to
distract audiences from the film's drama realism.
further establish this realism, Hitchcock utilized many real New York City
locales, including the actual Stork Club and the streets of New York City
neighborhoods. The film, frequently
documentary-like in tone, was perhaps Hitchcock's response to the European cinéma
vérité in vogue at the time.
than any other Hitchcock film, The Wrong
Man can be considered a companion piece to the director's own I Confess. Both are
somber dramas and represent a more serious side of the director during the
1950's. The main protagonists in
both films turn to Catholicism for faith and guidance. Manny is a spiritual man, and after his arrest, we see him
with his rosary, increasingly his only source of solace. During the inevitable trial, Manny keeps the rosary well in
hand. Late in the film, a portrait
of the Christ also appears prominently during a key scene.
Ultimately, Hitchcock's direction suggests that Manny's faith, and the
prayers which he offers not for himself but for his wife and family, are what
truly save him, for is not long after one prayer session, the true culprit to
the neighborhood crimes is captured.
Wrong Man is
a sad and grim film without light-hearted frivolity.
To call it fun entertainment would not be accurate, although the film,
directed with great restraint, is a wonderful example of Hitchcock peerless
skills as a director. His only
concession to brightening the film occurs at the very end after a poignant
sanitarium scene. The perfect
ending would have been of Fonda's Manny walking slowly away down a dark hallway
corridor, but the finale adds on a brief note explaining how everything turned
out okay in real life a few years later. Although
this short (but true) epilogue provides an optimistic spin to the conclusion of
the film, it somewhat cheapens the shattering emotional resonance of the final
scene in The Wrong Man between Manny
and Rose. Imagine Vertigo with a happy ending. Still,
this is only a small misstep in an otherwise superb effort from Hitchcock.
the identity of the neighborhood robber is irrelevant (a classic Hitchcock
MacGuffin). Although his eventual
capture brings a close to Manny's indictment proceedings, the aftermath of the
entire judiciary process upon Manny's personal life - a torn family, a wife
driven insane - lingers on. Even
Manny's accusers, after being confronted with the real robber, cannot bring
themselves to face or apologize to Manny. Justice,
though served, is incomplete and in essence cannot truly alleviate the harm
already inflicted upon Manny's family life.
These consequences of the wrongful accusation are at the true devastating
core of the film.
does not condemn the American legal system.
It does, however, illustrate that no system is perfect, that
occasionally, if tragically, the innocent may become caught helplessly in the
machineries of justice. If that
should happen, then he must trust either in himself or in the system to work (as
it does ultimately in The Wrong Man).
Wrong Man is
shown in a matted format that preserves the original widescreen aspect ratio. The video quality of the transfer is superb with deep black
levels and excellent clarity. Some
instances of scratch marks are present, but there is nothing that really
distracts from the viewing. All in
all, The Wrong Man is a good example
of a solid transfer of a vintage black & white film to DVD.
offers the original English monaural track or an alternate French track.
Both are quite adequate with a clean audio quality, though neither will
not overtax your sound system. This
film was coincidentally scored by Bernard Herrmann, who also wrote the music for
some of Hitchcock's most famous films, including Vertigo, North by Northwest,
featurette Guilt Trip: Hitchcock and the
Wrong Man (20 min.) relates many anecdotes about the director from childhood
experiences to amusing incidents on his sets.
One particular tale recalls how a young five-year-old Hitchcock was made
to stay in a jail cell by his father to impress upon him the error and evil of
crime; it was an experience which haunted the director throughout his life and
whose resonance can be felt in many of his films, particularly in those that
deal with the Hitchcockian theme of mistaken identity.
Other anecdotes are more light-hearted, such as Hitchcock's impatience
with Method actors searching for character motivation for their on-screen
actions; Hitchcock's reply to these actors was, "The motivation is - you're
featurette also comments on Vera Miles, one of Hitchcock's favorite actresses
(and also a favorite of John Ford's). She
provides a brilliant performance as Rose in The Wrong Man, and Rose's descent from loving loyalty into isolated
insanity paints a terrible image of one of the film's central themes - what can
happen to the innocent when the people they love are wrongly accused.
only other bonus on the DVD is a vintage trailer, narrated by Hitchcock himself.
TRIVIA: Real-life Balestrero case
witnesses were cast in small roles throughout The Wrong Man!