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The Wrong Man (1956)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Wrong Man (1956)

In Alfred Hitchcock's stark, film-noirish crime drama filmed in semi-documentary style - based upon a true story of a man falsely accused of armed robbery; it was taken from author Maxwell Anderson's The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero, who was commissioned by Hitchcock to write the screenplay; it was notable as the only Hitchcock film based on a "real-life" story:

  • in the opening (before the title credits), in a rare sight, director Hitchcock, seen in silhouette within a deep triangular-shaped shadow at a distance on a movie soundstage and lighted in extreme chiaroscuro, spoke directly to the audience: "This is Alfred Hitchcock speaking. In the past, I have given you many kinds of suspense pictures. But this time, I would like you to see a different one. The difference lies in the fact that this is a true story, every word of it. And yet it contains elements that are stranger than all the fiction that has gone into many of the thrillers that I've made before"
  • Stork Club string bass player-musician Christopher Emanuel "Manny" Balestrero (Henry Fonda) was a devoted family man who was living in the Jackson Heights (Queens) neighborhood of New York City
  • after visiting the office of the Associated Life Insurance Company, to obtain a loan from his wife Rose's (Vera Miles) policy, to pay for her expensive $300 dental work, the three suspicious female clerks in the office were certain that he was the man who had twice robbed the same office; he was mistakenly identified as a suspect for robberies (at gunpoint)
  • Manny was detained and intensely questioned for armed robbery without a lawyer (Manny called the grilling a "meatgrinder") in the 110th Precinct - when unusual coincidences caused police to believe that he was responsible for a string of robberies
  • during questioning, Manny mis-spelled the word "drawer" as "draw" - the same mistake made by the robber in his hold-up note - Manny was arrested for assault and robbery and ultimately put in jail - he was utterly dejected as he leaned back against his cell wall in the oppressive and nightmarish space; his confinement and disorientation were depicted by the camera's rotation (moving in rapid, clockwise circles) - a subjective shot from an objective POV
  • innocent 'everyman' Manny protested the charges, claiming he was "the wrong man" - after being bailed out for $7,500 after a night in jail, inexperienced criminal attorney Frank D. O'Connor (Anthony Quayle) was hired to defend Manny; his alibi was that he was at a resort hotel in Cornwall, NY with Rose during one of the earlier robberies, but it couldn't be substantiated
  • there was a brief, kinetically-filmed bedroom sequence between Rose and Manny when she completely lost control, pushed the comforting Manny away, and struck him with a hairbrush - she broke a mirror and lacerated his forehead - seen in a fragmented mirror image
  • due to the stress of the case, Manny's strained and guilt-ridden wife Rose fell into depression, became totally apathetic, and was institutionalized in a mental hospital in Ossining, NY
  • during the trial, Manny was convincingly prosecuted, although it was judged a mistrial due to a juror's remarks; meanwhile, the real robber was caught while Manny awaited a second trial; the case against him was ultimately dismissed, but his life and the life of his family had been shattered
  • the most memorable sequence was when falsely-accused Manny began to pray for strength, following the advice of his mother (Esther Minciotti) at the kitchen table ("My son, I beg you to pray") - he began to pray in the kitchen, then moved to his bedroom to pray more (as he clutched his rosary), in front of an iconic painting of Jesus; as his lips moved in prayer, there was an astonishing match-cut scene in which the face of the actual look-alike robbery criminal (wearing a hat and overcoat) became super-imposed and merged onto Balestrero's transparent face - there was an unmistakable resemblance between the real armed robber and Manny
The Miraculous Double-Exposure Prayer Shot
  • in a heartbreaking sequence, Manny visited Rose in the sanitarium where she calmly rejected him: ("Nothing can help me. No one. You can go now")
  • in the film's epilogue, Rose was "completely cured" two years later, left the sanitarium, and the couple moved to Florida: "Today, she lives happily in Florida with Manny and the two boys...and what happened seems like a nightmare to them - but it did happen..."

Director Hitchcock's Introduction

Three Suspicious Insurance Company Office Clerks

Questioning by Police About Hold Up Note

Confrontation Between Manny and His Wife Rose - She Struck Him With Hairbrush

Fragmented Broken Mirror Image

Trying to Comfort His Depressed Wife

Manny Rejected By Wife in Sanitarium


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