The Wrong Man (1956)

The Wrong Man is a 1956 American docudrama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Henry Fonda and Vera Miles. The film was drawn from the true story of an innocent man charged with a crime, as described in the book, The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero by Maxwell Anderson  and in the magazine article, “A Case of Identity” (Life magazine, June 29, 1953) by Herbert Brean.

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For the only time in his many films, Alfred Hitchcock starts this picture talking to the camera and says that “every word is true” in this story.

Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda), a down-on-his-luck musician at New York City’s Stork Club, is in a money crunch. His wife, Rose (Vera Miles), needs to have her wisdom teeth extracted at a cost of $300, but the couple does not have that much money. Though he has already borrowed against his life insurance policy, he goes to the life insurance company to attempt to take a loan out against Rose’s policy. He is immediately recognized by the clerical workers in the store as the man who had twice held up the insurance office. They inform the police, and he is taken to the 110th Precinct by detectives. Without being told why, Manny is instructed to walk in and out of a liquor store and delicatessen, both scenes of a robbery earlier that year. He is then asked by police to give a handwriting sample, writing the words from the stick-up note at the insurance company. Manny misspells the word “drawer” as “draw”—the same spelling mistake the robber made in the note. After being picked out of a police lineup by the women from the insurance company, he is then arrested and charged with robbery, and his family finds out that he will be in court on the following morning.

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Attorney Frank O’Connor (Anthony Quayle) sets out to prove that Manny cannot possibly be the right man: at the time of the first hold-up he was on vacation with his family, and at the time of the second his jaw was so swollen that witnesses would certainly have noticed. Manny and Rose look for three people who saw Manny at the vacation hotel, but two have died and the third cannot be found. All this devastates Rose, whose resulting depression forces her to be hospitalized.

During Manny’s trial a juror, bored with the minutiae of one witness’s testimony, makes a remark which prompts the judge to declare a mistrial. While Manny is awaiting a second trial he is exonerated when the true robber is arrested holding up a grocery store. Manny visits Rose at the hospital to share the good news, but as the film closes she remains clinically depressed; a textual epilogue explains that she recovered two years later.

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True story-authentic locations

9/10
Author: lreilly2 from United States (blue state
27 January 2005

Based pretty much on the actual events & people of a miscarriage of justice that took place in Queens County, New York in the early 50’s. The names of most of the people who took part in the event are unchanged in the movie and the location shots where the actual events took place add a touch of dark realism to the movie. The basic plot revolves around a musician who worked at the world famous Stork Club who was mis-identified by witnesses and arrested because he resembled an armed robber. Hitchcock dwells on the slow descent into helplessness and powerlessness that a citizen endures as he wends his way through the NYC (or any other) criminal justice meat grinder. There are chilling shots of his transport , by paddy wagon, into the Ridgewood Felony court and the Long Island City House of Detention. The lawyer he hired, Frank O’Connor, (his real name) went on to become District Attorney of Queens county and was later heavily involved in the infamous Kitty Genovese case. Not your typical Hitchcock film but one well worth seeing if for no other reason than to see one of Henry Fonda’s better performances as the quietly stunned Christopher Emmanuel (Manny) Balestrero who sees his life, career and family endangered by forces he has little control over.

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