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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hitchcock Month - The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man (1956)
Starring Henry Fonda and Vera Miles
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

The Wrong Man is Hitchcock's only film based off of a true story (although I guess it's true that Psycho's Norman Bates is based off of a real person) and the entire film is a departure for Hitchcock.  There's a grittiness on display here that reminded me a bit of 1930s flicks like The Public Enemy or Scarface (not the Pacino version) or maybe 1950s flicks like On the Waterfront (which I've admittedly only seen in bits and pieces).  The film contains nary a comedic moment and Hitch takes the material very seriously.  What could have been standard movie-of-the-week material is elevated by Hitch's ability to pace the film very well and create some unique shots with his camera.

The plot is simple.  Henry Fonda is Christopher Emmanuel "Manny" Balestrero, a man charged with several counts of armed robbery who must do all he can to convince the court of his innocence.  Meanwhile, his wife (Vera Miles) slowly begins to lose faith that her husband will win his case and begins to go insane, wracked with guilt for a slew of reasons that I won't get into here.

This is certainly the saddest Hitchcock film I've seen thus far.  As I said, there's a realness on display here that is unlike anything I've ever seen from Hitch.  We don't get relief from comedic side characters.  Instead, side characters such as Manny's son provide us with some genuine heart-wrenching moments, rather than moments of laughter.

Henry Fonda is pretty fantastic here.  Like Jimmy Stewart, Fonda is your regular everyman.  Unlike Stewart who oftentimes seems to have a slight "winking at the audience" smirk or smile on his face, Fonda is the "serious" everyman.  Fonda's role certainly adds a bleakness to the film that we're not used to seeing from Hitch's actors.  Vera Miles is also quite good as the beleaguered wife, but unfortunately, her insanity plot, while true to life, seems almost tacked on in the film.  While there's a great deal of time spent on her problem, it seems too secondary to ever gain any traction.

I'm gonna paraphrase a quote from director Peter Bogdanovich who said that The Wrong Man shows a restraint that we're not used to seeing from Hitchcock.  That's an accurate assessment of the film -- it's what makes the film unique to the Hitchcock oeuvre and one that I recommend to see a different side of the Master of Suspense.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

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