The Wrong Man is a 1956 Film Noir docu-drama by Alfred Hitchcock which stars Henry Fonda and Vera Miles. The film was drawn from the true story of an innocent man charged with a crime, as described in the book, The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero by Maxwell Anderson, and in the magazine article, "A Case of Identity" (Life magazine, June 29, 1953) by Herbert Brean.
It was one of the few Hitchcock films based on a true story and whose plot closely followed the real-life events.
The Wrong Man had a notable effect on two significant directors: it prompted Jean-Luc Godard's longest piece of written criticism, and affected Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Actors appearing in the film, but not listed in the credits, include Harry Dean Stanton, Werner Klemperer, Tuesday Weld, Bonnie Franklin, and Barney Martin. Weld and Franklin made their film debuts as two giggly girls answering the door when the Balestreros are seeking witnesses to prove his innocence.
For the only time in his many films, Alfred Hitchcock starts this picture talking to the camera and says that "every word is true" in this story.
Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda), a down-on-his-luck musician at New York City's Stork Club, is in a money crunch. His wife, Rose (Vera Miles), needs to have her wisdom teeth extracted at a cost of $300, but the couple does not have that much money. Though he has already borrowed against his life insurance policy, he goes to the life insurance company to attempt to take a loan out against Rose's policy. He is immediately recognized by the clerical workers in the store as the man who had twice held up the insurance office. They inform the police, and he is taken to the 110th Precinct by detectives. Without being told why, Manny is instructed to walk in and out of a liquor store and delicatessen, both scenes of a robbery earlier that year. He is then asked by police to give a handwriting sample, writing the words from the stick-up note at the insurance company. Manny misspells the word "drawer" as "draw"â"the same spelling mistake the robber made in the note. After being picked out of a police lineup by the women from the insurance company, he is then arrested and charged with robbery, and his family finds out that he will be in court on the following morning.
Attorney Frank O'Connor (Anthony Quayle) sets out to prove that Manny cannot possibly be the right man: at the time of the first hold-up he was on vacation with his family, and at the time of the second his jaw was so swollen that witnesses would certainly have noticed. Manny and Rose look for three people who saw Manny at the vacation hotel, but two have died and the third cannot be found. All this devastates Rose, whose resulting depression forces her to be hospitalized.
During Manny's trial a juror, bored with the minutiae of one witness's testimony, makes a remark which prompts the judge to declare a mistrial. While Manny is awaiting a second trial he is exonerated when the true robber is arrested holding up a grocery store. Manny visits Rose at the hospital to share the good news, but as the film closes she remains clinically depressed; a textual epilogue explains that she recovered two years later.
- Henry Fonda as Christopher Emmanuel "Manny" Balestrero
- Vera Miles as Rose Balestrero
- Anthony Quayle as Frank O'Connor
- Harold J. Stone as Jack Lee
- Charles Cooper as Det. Matthews
- John Hildebrand as Tomasini
- Esther Minciotti as Mama Balestrero
- Doreen Lang as Ann James
- Laurinda Barrett as Constance Willis
- Norma Connolly as Betty Todd
- Nehemiah Persoff as Gene Conforti
- Lola D'Annunzio as Olga Conforti
- Werner Klemperer as Dr. Bannay
- Kippy Campbell as Robert Balestrero
- Robert Essen as Gregory Balestrero
- Richard Robbins as Daniel - the Guilty Man
The real O'Connor (1909â"1992) was a former New York State Senator at the time of the trial, who later became the district attorney of Queens County (New York City, New York), the president of the New York City Council and an appellate-court judge.
Rose Balestrero (1910â"1982) died in Florida at the age of 72. Manny (1909â"1998) later moved to North Carolina, where he died at the age of 88.
A Hitchcock cameo is typical of most of his films. In The Wrong Man he appears only in silhouette, just before the credits at the beginning of the film, where he tells a darkened studio that the story is true.
Many scenes were filmed in Jackson Heights, the neighborhood where Manny lived when he was accused. Most of the prison scenes were filmed among the convicts in a New York City prison in Queens. One of those inmates shouted to Henry Fonda, "What'd they get ya for, Henry?" as the actor was entering the constructed set of Manny's prison cell.
Bernard Herrmann composed the soundtrack, as he had for all of Hitchcock's films from The Trouble with Harry (1955) through Marnie (1964). It is one of the most subdued scores Herrmann ever wrote, and one of the few he composed with some jazz elements, here primarily to represent Fonda's appearance as a musician in the nightclub scenes.
This was Hitchcock's final film for Warner Bros. It completed a contract commitment that had begun with two films produced for Transatlantic Pictures and released by Warner Brothers: Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949), his first two films in Technicolor. After The Wrong Man, Hitchcock returned to Paramount Pictures.
The Rotten Tomatoes approval rating is currently 89%.
- Trial film
- The Wrong Man at the Internet Movie Database
- The Wrong Man at AllMovie
- The Wrong Man at the TCM Movie Database
- The Wrong Man DVD review of the film at Vista Records
- The Wrong Man Slant magazine review of film