The Wrong Man (1956)

The Wrong Man (1956)

If you’ve read any of the biographies about Alfred Hitchcock at all you know of his fear of being locked up and his distrust of the police. This film is the perfect manifestation of those fears and ironically it’s based on a true story. In fact the movie opens with the director’s shadowed figure speaking "what you are about to hear is absolutely true" or words to that effect in lieu of his typical cameo. Based on the novel by Maxwell Anderson (All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)) this last effort by screenwriter Angus MacPhail whose other feature length adaptation for the director was Spellbound (1945) tells the story of Manny Balestrero a musician & family man who was incorrectly identified by witnesses as an armed robber. Sandwiched between his last two (of four) collaborations with James Stewart Hitchcock uses Henry Fonda for the first and only time to tell this real-life noir drama. The film also marks the first of the two Hitchcock films with Vera Miles who would go on to play Janet Leigh’s concerned sister in Psycho (1960).

Harold Stone and Charles Cooper play the police lieutenant & detective who based on identifications from several women robbery victims arrest and then process Balestrero (Fonda) through to jail – the film’s most memorable scenes. Nehemiah Persoff plays Manny’s brother-in-law who comes up with the bail. The story then shifts somewhat to a focus on Manny’s wife Rose (Miles) who begins to suffer a mental breakdown and she blames herself for what’s happened to her husband. Anthony Quayle who plays the inexperienced yet competent defense council that the Balestreros hire advises Manny to have his wife see a doctor (Werner Klemperer) and eventually she’s institutionalized. A thirteen year old Tuesday Weld appears uncredited in her first film as a giggling girl that the Balestreros come across while trying to find witnesses for his defense. The subplot of Rose’s collapse notwithstanding the film is still pretty good even with its hokey ending then again it’s based on a true story.

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