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Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Vintage Movie Review: The Wrong Man

1956
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Henry Fonda and Vera Mills

You couldn't imagine this film being made today - or if it was it would likely be a TV movie, rather than a big screen offering.  - then again I suppose if it was a made today for cinema then the Fonda character would likely get hold of an AK47 and go on a CGI gun rampage across the city - As it is Hitchcocks Docudrama is heavy on the melodrama and light on action....and it's all the better for it.

It is based on the true tory of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero ( Manny) who suffered a case of mistaken identity, when several witnesses claimed that he was the man who held up their store, and as a consequence of this his life falls apart. In January 1953, Balestrero went to borrow money from his wife’s life insurance plan. He was taken into custody after two employees at the insurance office identified him as the man who robbed the office of a total of $271 during two robberies the previous year.

As painstakingly recounted in the film, shot on manyof the actual locations, Balestrero was awaiting his second trial (the first had resulted in a miss-trial  after a juror made a remark presuming his guilt in open court) when the actual culprit was apprehended during an attempted deli robbery.

What made the case especially poignant  is what happened to Balestrero’s wife, Rose (played in “The Wrong Man” by Vera Miles). Blaming herself for Manny’s arrest, she suffered a nervous breakdown. The mother of two young sons, she remained institutionalised until September 1955.

'My life did not start over again when I was cleared,” said Balestrero, who moved his family to Florida after his wife’s release. “I figured if we’re going to really get a fresh start, everything’s got to be different. We left our friends, our relatives, our home, our furniture — everything.' Balestero speaking to the New York Post in a 1956 interview.

Hitchcock's movie sticks to the actual events like glue and Henry Fonda gives an amazing performance as the ordinary man caught up in a nightmare - it is hard to think of any other A- list actor, with the possible exception of James Stewart, who could have pulled off a performance such as this. Vera Mills is also exceptional as the wife who slowly spirals towards madness.

I'd seen this movie before, though I'm not sure how long ago but watching the pristine Blu-Ray print I was immediately sucked into the movie. It certainly a somber movie with a downbeat ending, which is likely the reason that it didn't do great Box Office upon its original release. The print itself is a vibrant high-def rendition, in a 1.77 aspect ratio very close to its theatrical presentation. There’s a show of noticeable grain in certain scenes but for the most part the texture is extremely solid; the visuals are striking, compelling.

Whilst the movie may not be as much fun as many of Hitchcock's other movies, and likely the slowest paced narrative he ever tackled it is still a masterpiece, and resonates with the viewer long after the final frame. And thanks to its docu-drama style we get to see what New York looked like in the 1950's

Excellent stuff.


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