It was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s disappointments. And, perhaps, that’s why we see it so infrequently.
Still 1956’s The Wrong Man has some fine touches including a topnotch music score by the renowned Bernard Herrmann and atmospheric B&W photography and lighting (by Robert Burks). But since audiences don’t leave humming the scenery, the picture’s obvious flaw has to be grappled with.
That is to say, what is Henry Fonda doing in this picture?
The Wrong Man is the story of musician Manny Balestrero, a musician who makes a decent living working nights as a bass player at Manhattan’s Stork Club in New York, and who lives in a modest home in one of New York City’s outer boroughs (probably Queens). He is a solid working stiff, honest, reliable, devoted to his spouse.
Manny is besieged by money problems (he plays the horses) and the presence of his mentally fragile wife, Rose (Vera Miles). Nothing compares, though, with the anguish inflicted on him via the plot’s quirk of fate — one that nearly destroys him and his family.
Manny is mistaken for another man, a bank robber, when he innocently pays a visit to turn in his wife’s insurance policy. No joke. Manny is quizzed by detectives and jailed after being identified by insurance company employees.
The Wrong Man — based on a true story written by Maxwell Anderson — takes us through Manny’s tortuous legal proceedings and subsequent trial and mistrial. The plot sorts itself out in the end but not after Mrs. Balestrero goes off the deep end.
‘The Wrong Man’ (is) one of the bleakest films in the history of cinema, writes Film Noir specialist Alain Silver.
That may be a bit of an overstatement, but it’s not far off the mark. The movie is indeed grim, another reason, perhaps, why it’s not seen more frequently.
The role of Manny calls for a salty, proletarian turn from an ethnic actor, one who is fully credible as a musician. (Fonda is especially clumsy when shown to handle the bass at the Stork.) Not a chilly interpretation from a renowned star of the wooden, aristocratic bearing of a Henry Fonda.
He is great in 1957’s 12 Angry Men as the well-dressed, methodically principled defender of righteousness plopped in the midst of a sweaty New York jury. But something else is called for in The Wrong Man.
Manny is a well intentioned man working on the financial edge. Could have, say, a Richard Conte or a John Garfield played the part more convincingly?