Directed by Alfred Hitchock
The police were convinced... The witnesses were positive ...Yet he was... THE WRONG MAN
“The Wrong Man” could have been the title for many movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was bestowed on a movie he directed in 1956. The tone of the movie is different from other Hitchcock ones. It is also out-of-date, a rarity among the works of Hitch before the late-60s. Despite these drawbacks it is wonderfully acted.
The Wrong Man is based on a true story. This is probably one of the reasons why there is a lack of humor in it. Hitch always used humor in his movies to counteract the suspense. He felt the audience needed to be let off the hook at times. There is no humor present here. It is a straightforward, grim look at the breakdown of a family.
The story involves Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero, played by Henry Fonda, known as Manny to his family. He is a musician at New York’s Stork Club, trying to make ends meet like a lot of other people. He has a wife, Rose, played by Vera Miles, and two young sons. Rose has recently gotten some dental work done, so the family is in financial difficulties. Despite these difficulties, Rose and Manny try their best to hide it from their kids.
Manny decides to borrow a little money against Rose’s life insurance policy. When he goes to the insurance office, some workers there claim that Manny is the person who recently committed armed robbery in the office. The man had not been caught yet. So the next evening, Manny is picked up outside his house by the police.
One of the reasons why Hitchcock wanted to make this movie was because it involved a scene where Manny is being driven through his own neighborhood in the back of a police car. He sees the normal, trivial routines of everyone, but is unable to take part in any of it. Instead, he is caged in. This fear of being picked-up by the police for something that he didn’t do, is something present in all of Hitchcock’s works and a great fear the man himself had. Manny is brought into the police station. In this pre-Miranda rights era, he is held with no reason. Of course arguments could be made today that the Miranda rights are being ignored by police officers, but at least at this point in time, there were no such rights. This is one of the biggest drawbacks of the movie. It is outdated in this instance and because a lot of audience sympathy is built up because Manny is held with no rights, it just doesn’t seem believable today.
Anyways, Manny is held and some local business owners are brought in to identify him. They can’t say for certain if Manny is the robber, but he seems close enough to the real criminal in looks and handwriting. This satisfies the police and they continue with their prosecution.
Strapped for money and with a husband facing a trial, Rose begins to lose it. She drifts farther and farther from Manny, the kids, and the world itself. Eventually she has to be put in an asylum. This secondary vein of the movie distracts from the main story of Manny being falsely accused of the crime, but in Hitchcock’s defense, the real wife of Manny did in fact end up in an asylum.
As with all things of this time period in Hollywood, the movie has a happy ending. In a great dissolve shot, we see Henry Fonda’s face become that of the real robber. The real robber is caught while trying to rob another store in the neighborhood. When this robber is brought in to be identified, the storeowners come in and say the same things they did when Manny came in. Of course Hitch put this in to cause some doubt in the audience. He asks “do we really ever know who the right man is?”
The movie ends with a blurb across the screen stating that the Balestrero family lived happily ever after. In real life, Rose was committed to the asylum and never regained her sanity. The ordeal crippled the family, instead of making them stronger – as the movie implies.
The Wrong Man is not a bad movie. It is outdated and it is grimier than most Hitchcock movies. But it is well acted. Vera Miles and Henry Fonda give tremendous performances. For this reason alone the movie should be watched. But if you need another reason, the fear of being a falsely accused person with no rights is something that is inherent in a lot of people. That fear is played out in this story.