The Wrong Man (Hitchcock, 1958)

“You’ve had a lot of bad breaks that could happen to anyone.”- Vera Miles telling her accused husband Henry Fonda his plight is universal.

The irony in this quote brilliantly taps into the darkness and supposed randomness within the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. His film The Wrong Man begins with an amazing sense of normalcy, where everyday life coincides with hard work and routine. When Henry Fonda’s every-man Manny Balestrero is accused of robbing a number of local liquor stores, his stasis and ideal life quickly shifts toward the horror of mistaken identity. Equally devoted to his roles as a father, a husband and musician, Manny is uprooted by these hurried accusations and thrown into a realm of doubt. Hitchcock’s restrained visual technique compliments the narrow scope of Balestrero’s POV, a hindered glance into a collapsing ideology. We see what he sees – a slow and scary descent into an existence without control or expectation. This progression marks a difference in style and tone from almost every other Hitchcock thriller. The Wrong Man is a sly and intelligent break toward an earnestness not often associated with Hitchcock’s work. Unlike the fantastical intent of many other Hitchcock hero’s, Balestrero’s situation is one based on a failure of memory of his peers, not out of spite or angst, but simply out of coincidence. Balestero’s resemblance to the real robber is frightening and one can see why the scared business owners felt like they were doing the right thing. However, the plight of this situation has ramifications that reach into the core of Balestrero’s family, causing his wife to go insane and his children to become increasingly non-existent. Hitchcock brilliantly simplifies Balestrero’s story down to the most personal level – a cringe, a prayer, or a smile at a validation of innocence. Only after all has collapsed does Hitchcock return his hero to a state of happiness and even then hardships remain supreme. While many of his other film’s harbor flashy pacing and glamourous chases, The Wrong Man is a disturbing and incredibly timely expose of rushed judgment and human error based with a sense of realism. While the film ends with a disappointing halt, the process is a complicated study of human nature attempting to regain some semblance of peace within normal life, a motif Hitchcock as successfully transmitted throughout his filmography.

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