Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Wrong Man (1956)

Surprising, serious drama from Alfred Hitchcock about a well-to-do cellist who gets mistaken for an armed robber and arrested. This is a rather humorless affair for Hitchock, and with good reason; it's based on a true story, and tells its story fairly straightforward. Henry Fonda is the poor patsy, an everyman with a loving family whose strong hold on reality is hampered by his wrongful imprisonment, and its effect on his family. His wife is played by Vera Miles, and she manages to outact Mr. Fonda by displaying her character's increasing guilt and paranoia with shocking subtlety, especially for the era. The thing that really shocked me about this film is that it completely lacks Hitchock's trademark cheekiness (save for a gratifying scene where a robbery goes wrong). It completely empathizes with Fonda's character, and Hitchcock goes to great lengths to put yourself in his shoes. He frames the world around Fonda, not just the jail cell, as a prison, as the impending sentencing for a crime he didn't commit looms around his shoulders; some of the tilted angles and intense camera movements recall Fritz Lang more than Hitch. He films New York City as a giant prison, with constant enclosures and corners being focused on to heighten the tension, with great success.

Highly Recommended for fans of the more serious side of Hitchcock's work, or of Henry Fonda or Vera Miles. This is a wonderful '50s drama, albeit with a more stark, European edge than much of the American work of the time, including Hitchcocks.

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