Monday, July 19, 2010

The Wrong Man. A-

I saw The Wrong Man as part of a Hitchcock marathon that included classics like Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, and Strangers on a Train. This was the only one I hadn't seen, and also the least renowned of the aforementioned titles. Also, I should point out it's Hitchcock's only film based on fact, which unsurprisingly makes it one of his most interesting projects. Graham Greene inveighed Hitchcock for overshadowing human character with style and suspense. I wonder if he ever saw The Wrong Man and if he did I'd have to think his opinion of Hitchcock's work would have been slightly compromised. The Wrong Man isn't about the suspense, and it's not about the audience wondering what might happen next in the plot. This is a movie that centers around a family man who has everything good in his life taken away when he's accused of being the man behind a series of holdups in New York City. Of course, as the title indicates, the man has been falsely accused of these crimes. The man is Christopher and he's played, in a perfect bit of casting, by Henry Fonda. He's a musician who works nights at a New York restaurant and returns home to a loving wife (Vera Miles) and two young boys. Money is tight, but this family knows how to find happiness in spite of financial restrictions. It's clear that Chris is the anchor of the family, so when he's accused of the crimes and put in jail, naturally things begin to fall apart in the household. Chris is bailed out of prison and as he prepares to go to court, his wife suffers a traumatic breakdown that forces her to go into a psychiatric facility. It sounds dramatic, but that's how it really happened. This is one of Hitchcock's most tragic films and his only movie that focuses more on human drama than suspense. We don't get many scenes that show Chris' feelings about the situation, but we don't need to. Really, the entire sequence when he's accused and put in prison depicts exactly what this character is thinking. And it's not his dialogue, but the facial expressions Fonda exhibits. The best scene in the movie is when Chris is put in prison. There's a clear emphasis of the fear and dread that Chris is going through, and it's all enhanced when we see him behind bars. Hitchcock told a story about when he was a kid. His father wanted to teach him a lesson so he sent the boy the police with the message that he was to be put in prison for five minutes. Even though it was only a short period, Hitchcock was terrified. That's what he shows in The Wrong Man. The scene ends with the camera, placed on a miniature circus wheel, spinning around the show not that Chris's outer world is dizzy, but that his inner world is pure chaos.

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