Combustible Celluloid
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With: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle, Harold J. Stone, John Heldabrand, Doreen Lang, Norma Connolly, Lola D'Annunzio, Robert Essen, Dayton Lummis, Charles Cooper, Esther Minciotti, Laurinda Barrett, Nehemiah Persoff, Kippy Campbell
Written by: Maxwell Anderson, Angus MacPhail, based on a novel by Maxwell Anderson
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 105
Date: 12/21/1956

The Wrong Man (1956)

4 Stars (out of 4)

True & False Crime

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Perhaps the most underrated and least known of Hitchcock's great films, The Wrong Man is unusual if only because Hitch concocted it from a true story. Henry Fonda plays Manny Balestrero, a poor jazz bassist barely scraping by. When his wife needs a $300 dental job, he tries to get an advance on her insurance policy. Instead, the women at the insurance office fingers him as a holdup man. Other people identify him as well, and when the police ask him to copy the holdup note, he inadvertently makes the same mistake as the thief.

Hitchcock follows the rudimentary details of going to prison, from the blackened, inky fingerprinting to the longing looks at the guard's dangling keys. Fonda seems to deepen his eyes, reflecting all kinds of confusion, pain and terror in their gloomy recesses. He's remarkably heartbreaking.

The film bogs down a bit when Manny's wife (Vera Miles) cracks under the strain and checks in to a mental facility. Hitchcock's climactic reveal of the "right man" is one of his greatest sequences, and the film's black-and-white photography (by Robert Burks) is at once gritty and lovely, using deeply pooled shadows to emphasize Manny's despair. Bernard Herrmann provided the film's minimalist score, his third for Hitchcock. (He would go on to do eight in a row. A ninth, for Torn Curtain, was completed but not used in the final film.)

Warner Home Video's DVD comes with a making-of documentary (featuring the usual band of misfits) and a trailer. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French, and the soundtrack is available in English and French-dubbed.

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