Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 209: The Wrong Man (1956) - Rank 3/5


While I'm a Hitchcock fan, I will admit that I haven't seen every film by the "master of suspense." However, typically when I'm unfamiliar with one of his titles, it hails from his pre-"Rebecca" period. It struck me as odd then when I came across this title while browsing and realized that I'd never heard of it, despite it's year of release. By 1956, Hitchcock already had "Rear Window," "Spellbound," "Shadow of a Doubt," "Strangers on a Train" and a number of other titles under his belt, with quintessential classics to come ("North by Northwest," "Vertigo," "Psycho," etc.). Why then was "The Wrong Man," starring Henry Fonda of all people, off my radar to the point that I didn't realize it was part of his repertoire? I realized the answer shortly into the film - it's rather mediocre.

Hitchcock begins the film by telling the audience that this film is in a different vein than all of his previous endeavors, for it recreates a real-life incident where being in the wrong place at the wrong time and mistaken identity shook the world of an Average Joe. Our square is bass player Manny Balestero, all-around good guy who'd never harm a fly and who works hard to support his loving family. But when he goes to his insurance company to borrow on his wife's policy (so she can afford dental surgery), he's mistaken for the man who robbed the company several weeks earlier and quickly finds himself arrested. Witnesses and handwriting samples seem to damn him even more and as the family pays Manny's bail and lawyer fees, they fall deeper and deeper into debt, driving Manny's wife to the loony bin and pushing Manny to the near brink of suicide.

Hitchcock's used the angle of mistaken identity with great success ("The Man Who Knew Too Little," "North by Northwest") but in this case, it doesn't work. Primarily because the "Master of Suspense" delivers no suspense. Hitchcock tells you from the start what is to occur, so you know the ending going in. It's just a series of depressing events until Manny is freed of his wrongful accusations. The film is well-directed and well-acted, but it never engaged me like so many of the director's other efforts. I can appreciate that Hitchcock was going for an "experimental film" where his usual M.O. was concerned, but unfortunately, Hitchcock has set the bar so high from himself after previous projects, "The Wrong Man" can scarcely outshine so many of its brethren.

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