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  Wrong Man, The The Accused
Year: 1956
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle, Harold J. Stone, Charles Cooper, John Heldebrand, Esther Minciotti, Doreen Lang, Laurinda Barrett, Norma Connolly, Nehemiah Persoff, Lola D'Annunzio, Kippy Campbell, Robert Essen, Richard Robbins, Dayton Lummis
Genre: Drama, Thriller, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: January the fourteenth 1953 was just another day for jazz bassist Christopher Balestrero (Henry Fonda), but it would be the last before his true nightmare began. He finished up at work in this New York nightclub after playing all night, and visited a local diner to relax before heading home where his wife Rose (Vera Miles) was in bed, but still awake. She had been complaining of toothache for the past few days, but the dentist told her the bill to have her problematic wisdom teeth extracted would be pretty pricey, and the Balestreros were not wealthy...

But going to get a loan the next morning was the worst thing he could have done, as we discover over the course of the next hour and three quarters, a story which the director Alfred Hitchcock himself appears at the start to assure us is one hundred percent true. It had caught his eye at the time, and appealed not only to his sense of injustice, but to the feelings of paranoia (here with overtones of Catholic guilt) that he channeled into his fiction, yet the main selling point was that it actually happened, and Balestrero was arrested for a series of crimes he did not commit. This meant that the usual Hitchcock tricks and humour were dialed down significantly.

This also means that it is one of the Master of Suspense's least friendly films, and as such has been neglected in his body of work in favour of more extravagant efforts, but although it was by no means a fun thriller to watch, there were reasons that The Wrong Man was worth catching. It's just that it is such a downer, even with that resolution at the end, that it's difficult to recommend, even for Henry Fonda fans as his usual self-assurance was entirely missing. Balestrero, as played by him under Hitch's instructions, is a grey man, utterly unremarkable until he is accused and then turns notable because of events he would far rather have avoided.

After he is arrested by a group of plain clothes cops who believe him to be a criminal carrying out violent thefts in the area, a man who would blend into the background now stands out because he looks so haunted and pursued as the psychological pressure gets to him. Not only that, but it gets to his wife as well, and she ends up having a breakdown that no matter what the end title card says, has made its mark in this troubling situation, almost as if it did not matter that Balestrero was innocent, he and his family were going to be punished no matter what. This sense of horrific unfairness pervades the mood of the film until it seems as if there was nothing possible to do to eradicate it.

Our protagonist does his best to prove he was nowhere near the scene of those crimes, but the feeling of being targeted by otherwise ordinary people on entirely false grounds - in this case, mistaken identity - is not one that easily leaves the story. If anything, Hitchcock revels in this sense of his persecution complex justified, another cue to be uncomfortable, with his setpieces not his accustomed stylish yet oddly artificial affairs, but more relentlessly miserable documentary methods applied, drilling into the audience that not only did this happen much as he was telling it, but that it could happen to you even if the thought of doing something illegal had never so much as drifted across your mind. When we finally see the actual cuplrit, he doesn't even look identical to Balestrero, underlining the random nature of the ordeal. It's true that The Wrong Man is hard to enjoy, but that could be because it struck to close to the bone for this filmmaker, and he was better to wrap up his themes in more embellished fashion. Music by Bernard Herrmann.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Alfred Hitchcock  (1899 - 1980)

Hugely influential British director, renowned as "The Master of Suspense" for his way with thrillers. His first recognisably Hitchcockian film was The Lodger, but it was only until Blackmail (the first British sound film) that he found his calling. His other 1930s films included a few classics: Number Seventeen, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Young and Innocent and Jamaica Inn.

Producer David O. Selznick gave Hitchcock his break in Hollywood directing Rebecca, and he never looked back. In the forties were Suspicion, thinly veiled propaganda Foreign Correspondent, the single set Lifeboat, Saboteur, Notorious, Spellbound (with the Salvador Dali dream sequence), Shadow of a Doubt (his personal favourite) and technician's nightmare Rope.

In the fifties were darkly amusing Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder (in 3-D), rare comedy The Trouble with Harry, Rear Window, a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, the uncharacteristic in style The Wrong Man, the sickly Vertigo, and his quintessential chase movie, North By Northwest. He also had a successful television series around this time, which he introduced, making his distinctive face and voice as recognisable as his name.

The sixties started strongly with groundbreaking horror Psycho, and The Birds was just as successful, but then Hitchcock went into decline with uninspired thrillers like Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. The seventies saw a return to form with Frenzy, but his last film Family Plot was disappointing. Still, a great career, and his mixture of romance, black comedy, thrills and elaborate set pieces will always entertain. Watch out for his cameo appearances in most of his films.

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