Starring: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
A jazz musician, Manny (Fonda) finds himself accused of robbing an insurance firm. When he’s arrested, he does everything he can to cooperate with the police, which only makes them more convinced that he’s guilty. The massive pressure to prove his innocence starts to affect his wife (Miles), who is admitted to an asylum. Can Manny prove his innocence, or does the system mean that you’re guilty til proven innocent?
Based on a real case, this film is a highly entertaining and often heartbreaking story of an every day couple caught up in the system. It has a different feel than other Hitchcock films. It’s a small, personal story, and the film style reflects this. It has a more homely, documentary feel to it’s camera work, unlike Hitchcocks later, more cinematic films.
The heart of this story is the struggle of the innocent man, accused of a wrong he didn’t do. The price of this accusation is high, the loss of his good name, the fear of going to prison, and the loss of his wife’s mental health. It’s a story of an event that could happen to anyone, to us the viewer, and the single mindedness of the police who want to convict him. Though Manny does manage to get through the ordeal and his innocence is proven, he’s not the same man he was at the start of the film. And his wife never entirely recovers her mental health.
The film is frightening because we know it’s based on the truth, and we know that innocent men do go to prison. It’s a tense film, with the fragile and beautiful Miles and the vulnerable and honest Fonda making masterful use of their performance abilities. Hitchcock loves a story of the wrong man, a guy accused and on the run, and would return to it often through his career, but in this film we see why it frightened and interested him so much, and why we should we frightened too. The justice system, as we know now, has often lacked justice throughout history. But in the 50’s, an age of wholesomeness and escapism, this film was challenging and honest. And still packs a punch today.
See It If: a must for all Hitchcock fans, this film will satisfy the cynic and true story lover in all of us. Tragic.
2 thoughts on “Classic Movie Of The Week: The Wrong Man (1956)”
‘It can happen to anyone.’ Indeed it can.
Perth was terrorised by Eric Cooke, aka The Nedlands Monster, during the early 1960s. Two men were wrongly convicted of murders Cooke committed – and were kept in jail for years after Cooke was captured and confessed his guilt to both murders.
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This was an excellent pick for your Classic Movie of the Week series, as it remains a much overlooked film, only grudgingly acknowledged for its quality even by Hitchcock enthusiasts. (Many of his films of lesser reputation- “Stage Fright, for instance -are often more interesting to discuss for their less overt qualities than many of his “masterpieces”.) The theme of the “wrong man” was one of Hitchcock’s most travelled thematic routes, but always in the service of calculated escapist entertainments, whereas “The Wrong Man” exists in an entirely different mindset, more reminiscent of some of the harder edged films socially critical dramas of the decade. Instead of the protagonist’s predicament being the catalyst of a greater contrived narrative mechanism, “The Wrong Man” deals with the harsh realities of such a situation when the distancing (and comforting) entertainment filters are removed; where the pain and suffering of the characters is intensely felt (and in the case of Vera Miles’ Rose- a woman of fragile sensitivity who is the antithesis of Hitchcock’s favored icy cool blondes, her damage is hinted to have a chronic permanence) and not easily mollified into upbeat, contented finales. Here, criminality doesn’t exist within the scope of greater conspiratorial enterprises or the charm of smoothly crafted villains, but in the more realistic and dispiriting realm of banality. There are no triumphant fanfares, only continuing pain. If Hitchcock enjoyed a career long engagement with continually finding new ways to employ aesthetic alterations in experimenting with narrative forms while manipulating his audience’s emotional responses, then “The Wrong Man” acts as a timely, if not enthusiastically received, slap in the face to those viewers for the decades of their cruel enjoyment of the persecution of others. A very fine pick.