Based on an actual case from 1953, "The Wrong Man" is a refreshing work after one has already familiarized oneself with Alfred Hitchcock's more iconic thrillers and epic suspense films. Though not financially successful upon its original release, the director's favourite theme - of an innocent man embroiled in extraordinary circumstances - is subsequently subjugated by the awful trauma that affects not only the family ties of Manny Balestrero, but the mental degradation of his once normal wife.
The familial and marital relationships are among the film's strongest emotional assets, although the procedural arrest, booking, and court proceedings (with echoey location sound, to boot) clearly reveal a director exploiting his own fear of being innocently snatched and digested by the legal system in far more visceral terms.
The concise featurette nicely charts the film's production history, particularly the marvelous locations and studio sets, and art director Paul Sylbert offers a few anecdotes on working for Hitchcock after his more gritty work for Method director Elia Kazan. Director Peter Bogdanovich and historian Robert Osborne also describe the performances of the two excellent leads and Christopher Husted offers a minor analysis of Bernard Herrmann's restrained score.
More scholarly discussions of the film would have given the featurette a bit more meat (the film contains a number of fascinating stylistic choices that beg comparison between other Hitchcock films), and there should have been some critical queries about the pro-police screenplay; the film deliberately infuses audiences with a sense of outrage for the rights violations employed by the police, yet neutralizes the debate via Fonda's performance as a forgiving, stoic man. The focal shift to Manny's wife is well constructed, but all that procedural minutia in the film's opening third starkly reveals a justice system that, at least in 1953, was pretty lousy when it came to civil rights.
Written by Maxwell Anderson ("The Bad Seed") and Angus MacPhail ("Strangers on a Train"), Warner Bros have found a decent widescreen print of "The Wrong Man," and despite a few obvious wear marks, it's an excellent transfer that preserves Robert Burks' superb cinematography. The sound mix is an interesting blend of dramatic sound design and ambient material for the city locations, and Bernard Herrmann's otherwise restrained score kicks off with one of the composer's jauntiest (and bizarre) title themes.
This Warner Bros title is available separately or as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection that includes: Strangers On A Train, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Suspicion, North By Northwest, Dial M For Murder, Foreign Correspondent, The Wrong Man, Stage Fright and I Confess.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan
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