The Wrong Man, 1956 – ★★★★

#10 in the Reverse Hitchcock Project

The film has an intro from Hitch himself, shown in silhouette, saying this was a different type of thriller than the ones he had done before.

Over the credits we have jaunty dance music, and underneath we see a club band, with maracas, and Henry Fonda on the double bass – a marvellous three minute intro into which to place our man in a recognisable setting.

Then to the subway, and a deserted train (and my goodness doesn’t Jane Fonda resemble her father?), all very ordinary.

I find it interesting that Fonda, by all accounts such a cold man off the screen, can give his characters such warmth and approachability, and so it is here with Manny, the ‘wrong man’ of the title. He’s got two children, and a nice wife in Vera Miles (who plays well in the later scenes).

We’re ten minutes in and all is well with the family, or so it seems.

Hitch does slightly off-kilter shots which make us uneasy without knowing why, exactly. I like the insurance office sequence with the bars which is definitely suggestive of our man being caught in a trap.

Our man is being accused of something, ‘he’s been here before’, but we don’t know what, but then we do know, he’s being accused of a previous hold-up, and the tension in the three ladies makes us start to doubt what we have seen before.

Twenty minutes in, and the cops are on the case, and it feels very Kafkaesque, while Fonda doesn’t even remove his hat in the car. Nice dialogue-less scene, underscored by the light jazz score.

And because you fit the description, you’re guilty. But you don’t have to worry, if you’re innocent. And it’s only routine, procedure. ‘You’re just helping us out.’ So this nice little frame-up of this man that we’re starting to think, OK, may not be guilty at all, starts to warm up.

Now there’s something about this film that grates on me a bit. I know it is based on a true story but still, it all seems rather obvious. All this ‘they’re expecting you’ stuff smells of a set-up.

Put a suggestion into someone’s head that a person is guilty, and they will see them as guilty. After all, it’s just an ordinary looking man in a hat and a coat, and the suggestion is there. Not exactly ‘evidence’.

Now the cell spins, and makes us as queasy as Manny. And now we know he is innocent.

Fonda absolutely nails this, you can see his contempt for his situation and his bewilderment at the attitude of those in authority – you know if he comes through this he will never trust anyone again, and he will never be easy in his mind again.

Hitch shows us the minutiae of this situation, the man shot through bars and barriers, the close-ups of handcuffs, keys, eyes.

Anthony Quayle plays the lawyer who casts doubt on the accusations and can prove Manny was elsewhere or unrecognizable at the time – but will justice prevail?

A good, tense, thriller, which makes you think about what might happen if you are innocent, and accused, and where all the ‘evidence’ seems to mount up against you.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews