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Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Wrong Man. Alfred Hitchcock. Warner Brothers(1956)


A low key and gripping thriller based on a true story of mistaken identity. Manny Balestrero, a musican at the Stork Club in New York, is mistakenly identified as a man who has committed a number of armed robberies. He finds himself enmeshed in the criminal justice system and trying to prove his innocence is very difficult. Manny and his family come under tremendous pressure as he faces the very real possibility of being convicted for a crimes he did not commit. The film is deliberately low key, the story is very straightforward and deeply involving.
Alfred Hitchcock chose a documentary style for the picture and it works very well. The ordinary life of Manny Balestrero is established before events overtake it. Hitchcock creates an extraordinary sense of dislocation as Manny is drawn into the criminal justice process and feels himself helpless in the face of it and unable to understand how he could be in the situation. Henry Fonda gives a powerful performance as Manny, he is subtle and restrained, at the mercy of forces he cannot understand and trying to make sense of his situation. He is superb as an ordinary man who rages quietly against his powerlessness. Vera Miles as Manny's wife Rose is astonishing, the savage impact the situation has on her is developed with great skill. Rose's breakdown comes without melodrama, it has a fierce intensity and profound despair that ring true.
Alfred Hitchcock saw that the terrible aspect to the situation was that everyone involved was acting in the best of faith, the witnesses who identified Manny were sure it was him, the police had a very credible case, Manny's alibis for the relevant times were frail. The absence of malice and the strong probability that Manny would be convicted give the film tremendous dramatic force, which Hitchcock frames with trademark visual skill and panache. This is a great film, a superb cast giving powerful performances under the masterful direction of a true cinematic genius.

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