“This is Alfred Hitchcock speaking. In the past, I have given you many kinds of suspense pictures. But this time, I would like you to see a different one. The difference lies in the fact that this is a true story, every word of it. And yet it contains elements that are stranger than all the fiction that has gone into many of the thrillers that I’ve made before.”
‘The Wrong Man’, directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1956, is an American drama which, unusually for the director, draws directly on a real life event. Henry Fonda plays Manny Balestrero, a musician in New York who works nights at a club but struggles to provide for his wife Rose, played by Vera Miles, and his children. An expensive medical bill leads him to go to an insurance agency to borrow money, but the staff there mistake him for a man who had previously robbed them. The police are called and Balestrero is arrested and charged. The rest of the film follows his attempts to prove his innocence and his wife’s nervous breakdown as the pressure of the situation and the court case become too much for her. The combination of Hitchcock’s genre style and the real life situation is perfect. Balestrero’s story is a perfect subject for the director, feeding his preoccupation with innocence and wrongful arrest. Hitchcock goes to great lengths to match the locations and timeline of the real life case, but blends this with his own feeling for building drama and tension. The performances are strong: Fonda seems to shrink throughout the film as the weight of his circumstances get to him, whilst Miles becomes progressively more unstable to the point of catatonia. Like ‘I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang’ made twenty years before, ‘The Wrong Man’ feels like a film calling for political change, drawing on a real miscarriage of justice to expose it and to improve the system.
Would I recommend it? It’s more sober and less amusing than Hitchcock’s other work, but it feels like an important film. The docudrama nature of it, combined with Hitchcock’s flair for drama, is a source of fascination. Watch in a double bill with ‘I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang’.