Film / The Wrong Man

A 1956 docudrama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on an actual legal case from 1953, as covered on the The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero by Maxwell Anderson and on an article by Herbert Brean.

Christopher Emmanuel "Manny" Balestrero (Henry Fonda) works as a musician in the Stork Club, a then-famous nightclub of New York City. (The Stork Club was active from 1929 to 1965). His wife Rose (Vera Miles) needs some dental work and Manny attempts to convince her insurance company to cover the medical expenses. Once he steps into their office, Manny finds himself accused of robbery. He is apparently a look-alike of an armed robber who has visited the office twice already. Several witnesses are willing to testify against him at trial.

His lawyer Frank O'Connor (Anthony Quayle) decides to build the defense by proving that it is based on mistaken identity. Fortunately for the Balestreros, they were away on vacation at the time of the first robbery. Unfortunately for them, people who could testify on that are either dead or hard to locate. Rose slowly descends into depression to the point where she is institutionalized. While Manny is eventually released, Rose remains in an apathetic state.

In real life, the Balestreros went on to obscurity. But O'Connor became famous for this case and used it to relaunch his failing political career. He served as a New York State Senator in 1955, Queens County District Attorney (served 1956-1965), New York City Council President (1966-1968), and a justice of the New York Supreme Court (1969-1986). He died in 1992, due to an accidental fall from a flight of stairs.

Tropes related to the movie:

  • Adult Fear: Being accused of a crime you didn't commit, the resulting legal process — bail, legal fees, health fees — being too expensive, your wife having a mental breakdown, further damaging the marriage and family, in addition to adding to the health fees, and ultimately the entire ordeal ends by pure dumb luck and not out of the competence of the legal system.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Manny is cleared, but Rose remains clinically depressed and hospitalized. A title card at the very end states that she recovered two years later, but the final sentence of the same card also said that this suffering really did happen to innocent people who didn't deserve it.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Manny Balestrero is an Italian-American, and his mother is a practising Catholic. One of the items Manny keeps with him is his rosary beeds. Hitchcock himself was a practicing Catholic and this is one of his few films which deal with his faith.
  • Clear My Name: What Manny has to do, though he uses strictly legal means.
  • Creator Cameo: Not really a cameo per se, but Hitchcock appears in silhouette to introduce the film at the beginning.
    • This Is Reality: He foregoes the traditional cameo as "every word is true" in this story.
  • Criminal Doppelgänger: There's an armed robber who closely resembles Manny.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Rose slips into depression when it becomes clear that they cannot produce any useful witnesses.
  • Guilt by Coincidence: Manny so resembles a man, who had twice held up an insurance office, that police are called when Manny unknowingly goes there on business. He is arrested after several witnesses identify him as the robber, and in providing a handwriting sample he misspells a word, which was also misspelled in a note written by the robber.
  • Mistaken Identity: The entire basis for the case.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: As commented by Hitchcock himself in the prologue.
  • Sanity Slippage: Rose.