Tuesday, May 24, 2011
#125: The Wrong Man
The Wrong Man is a typical Hitchcockian plot. Like North by Northwest for example. A man is falsely accused of a crime he didn't commit. Hitchcock then entices you to empathize with the protagonist and make his suffering your own. The thing with this one though is while a lot of those others were stories that were either written or adapted from novels, this was the first time that Hitchcock took inspiration from a real life story. What's more, like those episodes of Hitchcock on TV, he also appears in the movie's beginning- the only time he introduces a movie in his career.
Ballestero (Henry Fonda) is a bass player at the high-flying Stork Club in New York. At home he is a doting father who also gives music lessons to his kids who want to play the piano like Mozart. To his wife, he is a caring husband. So when his wife needs an extra $300 for a routine dental operation, with no hint of the trouble that is all set to befall him, he goes to the Insurance Office to enquire about the money that's acrrued to her. Employees at the office, however, seem to recognize him as someone who threateningly held up a colleague for $200 not too long back. They immediately call the police and after a couple of routine checks, Ballestero finds himself behind bars. From thereon, is he the wrong man, is the question Hitchcock want us to be engaged with.
Most Hitchcock movies work because of the sheer desperation of a protagonist towards a situation, the mind-boggling nature of it all and perhaps the interplay of a 'MacGuffin'. Some of those classic Hitchcock movies like Rebecca, Vertigo or a Rear Window had all these elements. The problem with The Wrong Man is that it takes only the first and tries to thrive on it. Henry Fonda touches us with his steely hope even as Mrs Ballesterto (Vera Miles) slips into depression. In spite of a straightforward storyline, Hitchcock employs myriad camera movements to bring us close to the protagonist's complicated situation- some of the close-ups and the techniques conveying the sombre mood of the movie with telling effect. It is an effect that found favor with someone no less than Martin Scorcese who rates The Wrong Man as one of his favorite Hitchcock movies.
The Wrong Man had a premise that Hitchcock relied too often in the past and if you've seen something like a Birds or a North by Northwest, this is unlikely to impress you. Catch it only if you're a die-hard.