The bleakest of Hitchcock's films, this stark, deliberate probing of a man wrongfully accused is almost wholly based on fact, creating its drama from a celebrated New York City case. Fonda plays Manny Balestrero, a family man who plays stand-up bass at a Queens nightspot called the Stork
Club. Although he doesn't have much money, he manages to keep his life together with the help of his devoted wife, Rose (Miles). When she complains of dental pains, Manny decides to borrow on her life insurance policy (the last place they can borrow money since their debts have already piled too
high) to pay for medical attention. Although he makes a practice of picking horses in the race section of the newspaper, he never dares to actually bet on them even though a win could get him out of debt. The following morning, Manny goes to the insurance office where he is identified by the
office girls as the man who had robbed them previously. Later that night, he is arrested at the Stork Club. After being identified by a number of witnesses, Manny is interrogated at the police station. When he makes a nervous mistake in a handwriting test (misspelling the word "drawer" as
"draw"--the same mistake made on the robber's ransom note), he is fingerprinted, photographed, and imprisoned. Finally released on bail, Manny is joyfully reunited with Rose and hires defense attorney (Quayle). When Manny cannot find any witnesses to provide his alibi, the prospect of an acquittal
looks dim. Meanwhile, Rose begins to crack under the pressure and is no longer able to deal with her husband's trial and defense. Although legal justice is ultimately served, Manny's family must nonetheless pay a considerable price for his freedom.
Having become accustomed to the lighter, more commercial tone of such films as TO CATCH A THIEF, the public was taken aback when they viewed the unexpectedly bleak, hopeless, Kafka-esque style of THE WRONG MAN. Basing the film on incidents occurring to a real-life Queens bass player, Hitchcock takes us to the actual locations with the intent of representing the case in all its authenticity. Hitchcock spares us nothing in procedural terms. The questioning of the suspect, for example, is done in necessary tedium, wearing down the audience as much as Fonda's character. While the film centers chiefly on Manny's trauma, Hitchcock doesn't ignore the mental torture Rose is put through, temporarily departing from the story of Fonda's conviction to delve further into her problems. Don't look for Hitchcock's trademark cameo in this picture; he had originally intended to be seen as a customer walking into the Stork Club but edited himself out of the final print.
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