In 1956, Alfred Hitchcock gave us another very unique film. While most people tend to remember him immediately for films like Psycho, Rear Window, Rebecca , and even North by Northwest. He undoubtedly leaves a creative mark on every film that he ever made. Including the lesser-known ones . In 1956 Hitchcock gave us “The Wrong Man”. This was very unique among other Hitchcock films and that is classified as a docu- drama.
Based in part on a true story. Hitchcock himself also viewed the story as a very personal one. So personal in fact, that it’s one of the few in a handful of his movies in which he himself does not have a cameo. Which is something he was famous for in most of his films. Instead he gives a silhouetted intro.
While some of his other films deal with such fantastic elements as serial killers, espionage, and outright conspiracy, this film actually deals with something a little bit more personal and relatable. And in many ways a far more realistic plot that you could just as easily find in the real world as you could in any movie .
In the film, Manny Balestrero, (played by Henry Fonda) is convicted for the crime of robbery simply because he happens to physically resemble the actual robber. When he goes into the bank, the Teller is mistakes him for the man who had robbed them previously and they are so sure of his identity and guilt. The police are so sure of the identity based on his own description that nobody even stops to question his own innocence. But the great thing about Fonda’s performance in this movie is that you could see the innocence hidden behind the rage.
There’s a kind of an unspoken rage inside Fonda’s eyes which is basically the only clue that tell you he is innocent. And the fight for his innocence starts to take a toll on his family. Especially his wife, in this film played by Vera Miles. Who does an excellent job showing the emotional trauma that this is holding on their family.
A majority of this film is not chasing down the real villain, nor is it a pursuit of innocence much like Hitchcock had done in his film North by Northwest. Rather, it’s all about the effects of society deciding that this man is guilty of a crime that he did not commit. This is actually what the real reason why The Wrong Man has a more down-to-earth feel than many other Hitchcock films. Because there is no true hero in this film in the most popular definition of it. Our main character is a victim.
The film was actually shot in a very noir-ish black-and-white style. Which actually kind of gives it a rather melancholy feel. Two of the most interesting shots of the film both shots involving Henry Fonda in a prison cell. The first one is when he first shown into the prison cell and the camera zooms in through the port in the door, which kind of helps show the character’s isolation. And then the second one is when he sitting down behind a wall and the camera kind of does almost like a merry-go-round spin around his face symbolizing how his life now feels like it’s starting to go a little out-of-control. Very subtle but very beautifully done.
If there’s one thing Alfred Hitchcock really excelled at when it came to making movies or rather telling stories, it’s the idea of an ordinary person placed in extraordinary circumstances. You will see this in North by Northwest, you will see this in Rear Window, you will see this in The Lady Vanishes, you’ll even see this in one of his later films, Frenzy. But this film touches on in a very unique way as said before because it has a very realistic feel and it as a whole is a more realistic story the film has a much more grittier vision with it and doesn’t have as many glamorous stars like say Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, or James Stewart.
Being a movie that’s actually set in a very realistic setting it’s easy to understand how the glamour of 1950s Hollywood could’ve overlooked a film like The Wrong Man. In many ways The Wrong Man was more than likely, a film made ahead of its time. And it only took the passing of that time for audiences to realize how great this movie really is. While today’s fans of Hitchcock can easily overlook it mostly because of films like Psycho, it’s easy to understand also, how a film like The Wrong Man can be rediscovered by new fans of Hitchcock’s work.