The Wrong Man (1956)


Imagine waking up one morning to run your errands, and you’re then stopped by police who insist you’ve committed a horrible crime? And what happens when everyone else you come across swears you’ve committed this horrible crime, and you know yourself that you’ve never even held a gun? How do you convince everyone that you’re an innocent man, when people can identify you as a criminal, and present evidence that contradicts your claims? What happens when you’re about to go to jail for a crime you have committed and can’t prove that you didn’t commit it? That’s the nightmare Manny Balestrero, a family man, finds himself in, in Alfred Hitchcock’s gripping and awfully horrifying thriller that sees a wrongly convicted man who has no chance of proving he’s committed the awful crime he’s been accused of.

True, in many ways, “The Wrong Man” is a stunning story based on real events of a man confused with a criminal, and given no chance to prove his innocence. But what we’re watching is Hitchcock’s paralyzing fear of the police and authorities. Hitchcock was horrified of the police, and, like every other horror maestro in the world, Hitchcock provided a healthy catharses, and “The Wrong Man” is his fear manifested on film. The inability to prove your innocence, along with the fading mental health of your loved ones faced with the paranoia that they could also be the victims of mistaken identity, Hitchcock covers it all.

He vents not only for the movie going audience as Henry Fonda pulls in another truly excellent performance as this mild mannered man who is forced into an extreme situation much to his horror. Vera Miles is particularly excellent as Rose, Baltrero’s life whose mind is most damaged as she slowly deteriorates in sanity while witnessing her husband be brought in and out of maximum security jail, told by lawyers that he doesn’t stand much of a chance, and then forced to face the notion that she herself may not believe his alibis, even in the face of solid evidence that he’d never committed a crime before. Hitchcock doesn’t just explore the crimes committed, or the damage done, but on how one little slip-up in terms of identity and being at the wrong place at the wrong time can affect our lives for the worst.

Even though Manny is intent on proving his innocence and is convinced he’ll be able to keep from being locked away for a very long time, fate and the authorities simply will not work in his favor, regardless of what he does. Hitchcock doesn’t appear in a cameo this time, except narrates the opening in the shadows to introduce us to the exact atmosphere experienced throughout. “The Wrong Man” is told through stark shades of nightmarish black and white only to accentuate the feeling of futility and claustrophobia amidst this poor family. It’s a worthy title in the Hitchcock canon, and it’s also a rather unique little mystery worth the watch. It’s a banner title in Henry Fonda’s acting repertoire, and one that works to illustrate Hitchcock’s fractured psychoses.