The Wrong Man

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The Wrong Man
The-Wrong-Man-poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlfred Hitchcock
Screenplay byMaxwell Anderson
Angus MacPhail
Based onThe True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero
by Maxwell Anderson
Produced byAlfred Hitchcock
StarringHenry Fonda
Vera Miles
CinematographyRobert Burks
Edited byGeorge Tomasini
Music byBernard Herrmann
Production
company
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • December 22, 1956 (1956-12-22) (US)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1.2 million[1]

The Wrong Man is a 1956 American docudrama film noir 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[2][3] and in the magazine article "A Case of Identity", which was published in Life magazine in June 1953 by Herbert Brean.[4]

It is one of the few Hitchcock films based on a true story and whose plot closely follows the real-life events.

The Wrong Man had a notable effect on two significant directors: it prompted Jean-Luc Godard's longest piece of written criticism in his years as a critic,[5][6] and it has been cited as an influence on Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver.[7]

Plot[edit]

Alfred Hitchcock appears on screen to tell the audience that the film's "every word is true".

Christopher Emanuel "Manny" Balestrero (Henry Fonda), a down-on-his-luck musician at New York City's Stork Club, needs $300 for dental work for his wife Rose (Vera Miles). When he visits the office of a life insurance company to borrow money against Rose's policy, he is mistaken by the staff there for a man who had twice held them up.

He is questioned by the police, who call him "Chris" rather than Manny, and tell him that they are looking for a man who had robbed the insurance company and other businesses and that he might be their man. Manny is instructed to walk in and out of a liquor store and a delicatessen which had also been robbed by the same man. He is then asked to write the words from a "stick-up note" note used by the robber in the insurance company robbery; he misspells the word "drawer" as "draw" – the same mistake made in the robber's note. After being picked out of a police lineup by an employee of the insurance company who had witnessed the robberies he is arrested on charges of armed robbery.

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. Of three people who saw Manny at the vacation hotel, 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's remark forces a mistrial. While awaiting a second trial Manny 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 ends, she remains severely depressed; a textual epilogue explains that she recovered two years later.

Cast[edit]

Cast notes

Historical notes[edit]

Balestrero's attorney, the real Frank O'Connor (1909–1992) was a former New York State Senator at the time of the trial, and later became the district attorney of Queens County (New York City, New York), the president of the New York City Council and an appellate-court judge.[citation needed]

Rose Balestrero (1910–1982) died in Florida at the age of 72.[9] Despite the claim in the film's epilogue, Rose never fully recovered after her nervous breakdown. She blamed herself for her husband's arrest.[10] Manny Balestrero (1909-1998) outlived his wife by sixteen years, dying in North Carolina aged 88.[11]

Chris and Rose's son, Gregory, went on to earn a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and has become the CEO of the Project Management Institute.

Chris Balestrero sued the city for false arrest. Asking $500,000, he accepted a settlement of just $7,000.[10] He earned $22,000 from the film, which went to repaying loans for Rose's care.[10]

A street is named "Manny 'The Wrong Man' Balestrero Way" at 73rd Street and 41st Avenue in Jackson Heights, New York. The street is not far from the former real-life Balestrero home.[12][13][14]

Production[edit]

A Hitchcock cameo is typical of most of his films. In The Wrong Man, he appears only in silhouette in a darkened studio, just before the credits at the beginning of the film, announcing that the story is true. Originally, he intended to be seen as a customer walking into the Stork Club, but he edited himself out of the final print.[15]

Many scenes were filmed in Jackson Heights, the neighborhood where Manny lived when he was accused. Most of the prison scenes were filmed among the convicts in a New York City prison in Queens. The courthouse was located at the corner of Catalpa Avenue and 64th Street in Ridgewood.[16]

Bernard Herrmann composed the soundtrack, as he had for all of Hitchcock's films from The Trouble with Harry (1955) through Marnie (1964). It is one of the most subdued scores Herrmann ever wrote, and one of the few he composed with some jazz elements, here primarily to represent Fonda's appearance as a musician in the nightclub scenes.

This was Hitchcock's final film for Warner Bros. It completed a contract commitment that had begun with two films produced for Transatlantic Pictures and released by Warner Brothers: Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949), his first two films in Technicolor. After The Wrong Man, Hitchcock returned to Paramount Pictures.

Reception[edit]

A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote that Hitchcock "has fashioned a somber case history that merely points a finger of accusation. His principals are sincere and they enact a series of events that actually are part of New York's annals of crime but they rarely stir the emotions or make a viewer's spine tingle. Frighteningly authentic, the story generates only a modicum of drama."[17] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times agreed, writing that "As drama, unhappily, it proves again that life can be more interminable than fiction."[18] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote, "Having succeeded often in making fiction seem like fact, Alfred Hitchcock in 'The Wrong Man' now manages to make fact seem like fiction. But it is not good nor interesting fiction."[19] John McCarten of The New Yorker declared, "Mr. Hitchcock makes a good point about the obtuseness of a police group that holds firm to the belief that everyone is guilty until proved innocent, but his story of the badgered musician is never very gripping."[20] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that the early police procedural scenes "make a powerful contribution to the effectiveness of the film's first part," but that Rose's hospitalization felt like a "dramatically gratuitous development, particularly as its demands are ill met by the actress concerned," and that the final act of the film suffered a "slow decline into a flatly factual ending."[21]

Variety called the film "a gripping piece of realism" that builds to a "powerful climax, the events providing director a field day in his art of characterization and suspense."[22] Harrison's Reports was also positive, calling it "Grim but absorbing melodramatic fare" with Henry Fonda and Vera Miles "highly effective" in their roles.[23] Jean-Luc Godard, in his lengthy treatise on the film, wrote: "The only suspense in The Wrong Man is that of chance itself. The subject of this film lies less in the unexpectedness of events than in their probability. With each shot, each transition, each composition, Hitchcock does the only thing possible for the rather paradoxical but compelling reason that he could do anything he liked."[24] The film ranked 4th on Cahiers du Cinéma's Top 10 Films of the Year List in 1956.[25]

More recent assessments have been more uniformly positive. The film holds an approval rating of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on reviews from 25 surveyed critics with an average rating of 8.07/10.[26] Glenn Kenny, writing for RogerEbert.com in 2016, stated that the film may be the "least fun" of Hitchcock's Hollywood period, but that it "is as fluently styled a movie as Hitchcock ever made."[27] Richard Brody of The New Yorker wrote that "few films play so tightly on the contrast between unimpeachably concrete details and the vertiginous pretenses of reality. Hitchcock’s ultimate point evokes cosmic terror: innocence is merely a trick of paperwork, whereas guilt is the human condition."[28] In 1998, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader included the film in his unranked list of the best American films not included on the AFI Top 100.[29]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Billheimer, John (2019). Hitchcock and the Censors. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. p. 214. ISBN 978-0813177410.
  2. ^ Harris, R.A.; Lasky, M.S. (2002). The Complete Films of Alfred Hitchcock. Citadel. ISBN 9780806524276 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ "The Wrong Man". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  4. ^ Brean, Herbert (June 29, 1953). "A Case of Identity". Life. Vol. 34 no. 26. pp. 97–100, 102, 104, 107. ISSN 0024-3019 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Godard on Godard (translated by Tom Milne, Da Capo Press)
  6. ^ D, David (April 17, 2013). "Toronto Film Review: History of Film Criticism: Godard on The Wrong Man". Toronto Film Review. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  7. ^ Christie, Ian; Thompson, David, eds. (1989). Scorsese on Scorsese. Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0571141036.
  8. ^ "The Wrong Man (1956)". Internet Movie Database.
  9. ^ "ancientfaces.com".
  10. ^ a b c Lumenick, Lou (2016-02-07). "A case of mistaken identity ruined this man's life — and inspired Hitchcock". New York Post. Retrieved 2019-10-26.
  11. ^ Christopher Emmanuel “Manny” Balestrero, Find A Grave
  12. ^ "41st Ave & 73rd St". 41st Ave & 73rd St. Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  13. ^ "Woodside street to be renamed after man behind Alfred Hitchcock film". qns.com. Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  14. ^ October 01, ohtadmin | on; 2014. "Jackson Heights Co-Naming Immortalizes 'Wrong Man' | Queens Gazette". www.qgazette.com. Retrieved October 26, 2019.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ TV Guide Movie Reviews. The Greatest Films of All Time. 2005. p. 188.
  16. ^ "RIDGEWOOD, Queens - Forgotten New York". forgotten-ny.com.
  17. ^ Weiler, A. H. (December 24, 1956). "Screen: New Format for Hitchcock". The New York Times. p. 8. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  18. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (January 24, 1957). "Hitchcock 'Wrong Man' Lifelike but Plodding". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 9. Retrieved on July 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  19. ^ Coe, Richard L. (January 18, 1957). "Story's 'True' But Not 'Real'". The Washington Post. p. A17.
  20. ^ McCarten, John (January 5, 1957). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 61. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  21. ^ "The Wrong Man". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 24 (278): 31. March 1957.
  22. ^ "Film Reviews: The Wrong Man". Variety. January 2, 1957. p. 6. Retrieved July 26, 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  23. ^ "'The Wrong Man' with Henry Fonda and Vera Miles". Harrison's Reports. December 22, 1956. p. 204. Retrieved July 26, 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  24. ^ "The Wrong Man". San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 2017. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  25. ^ Johnson, Eric C. "Cahiers du Cinema: Top Ten Lists 1951-2009". alumnus.caltech.edu. Archived from the original on 2012-03-27. Retrieved 2017-12-17.
  26. ^ "The Wrong Man (1956)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  27. ^ Kenny, Glenn (February 17, 2016). "'The Wrong Man': Hitchcock's Least 'Fun' Movie is Also One of his Greatest". rogerebert.com. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  28. ^ Brody, Richard. "The Wrong Man". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  29. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (June 25, 1998). "List-o-Mania: Or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love American Movies". Chicago Reader. Archived from the original on April 13, 2020.

External links[edit]