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Film Club: The Wrong Man

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Edited by kenmorefield

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I wonder if anyone has a good knowledge of Hitchcock and can tell us whether by the time of this film if he was primarily a Hollywood director (and hence have an American perspective) or was still very much a British director. That may affect how we are willing to hear his thoughts on American legal system -- is he critiquing from inside or as an outsider?

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Hitchcock made the jump from England to Hollywood somewhere between 1938's The Lady Vanishes and 1940's Rebecca. The Wrong Man came out in 1956 -- the same year as his American remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, which had originally been a British film in 1934, and one year after his TV show began -- so I'd say Hitchcock was definitely a Hollywood man by this point.

BTW, kenmorefield, I quote the note at the top of this thread:

It should be understood that since this is a discussion thread for folks who have seen the film under discussion,
spoilers will come up throughout the threads and need not be individually tagged
.

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This bothered me A LOT, because I didn't at all get the sense that Hitchcock was implying it was a bad thing for the cops to be railroading this second guy. Right down to the smile the cop gives Manny, which IIRC, Manny returns. It struck me more as, "Manny is a good man, a man of faith in God and the system, and he has now seen that these tactics are OK once the cops know they have the guilty guy." Maybe that's just my quasi-anti-authoritarian streak kicking in, but that's how I read the scene.

Mark, I think I agree with Ken that Hitchcock subtly suggests "the right man" may be "the wrong man." For one, while we are shown that this man held up one store, we are never shown that he, in fact, held up the other stores...and as Ken has mentioned, it's highlighted that the exact same (faulty) process of indictment is being used again. More overtly, note what the man says when he is apprehended: "I haven't done anything! I have a wife and kids waiting for me at home!" Sound familiar? ;)

Two overarching Hitchcockian convictions of the film and these details undermine my certainty about this narrative resolution. One is that society is clearly flawed on some deep, structural level--you see this throughout Hitchcock's career in regards to the law, which is always confused and misguided--and it's at its most mysterious and apocalyptic in The Birds. I don't think the film is an indictment of the legal system so much as its legal system is an outward manifestation of a much deeper societal problem. The other conviction is Hitchcock's obsession for what the Cahiers du Cin

Edited by Doug C

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I wanted to add that your comment about playing the horses brought to the surface something I noted but repressed while watching the film: that Manny tells his wife he is only pretending to place bets for fun, but when he is under oath, he admits that he actually did place bets.

Yes! That's right...

Then I read your post and I thought...is it a little lie? Are there reasons the wife may be suspicious of him (culminating in the scene where she hits him with the brush) that I know not? How quickly I make judgments (she's crazy, he's innocent and not just a good liar) based on partial information.

And although Rose is clearly innocent of holding up drug stores, she is "guilty" of (according to her) not spending money wisely, and Manny is arrested trying to get a loan from her life insurance policy for her wisdom teeth. Obviously, she takes on way too much guilt and despair, but...is she really that "innocent"?

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Excellent points - thanks, Doug and Ken! That completely changes my reading of the "fade-in" from Manny's face to the other guy - Hitchcock isn't taking us from the "wrong man" to the "right man," but from one sort-of-not-guilty guy to another sort-of-guilty guy ...

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This DVD has been waiting for me for the last two days. I hope to get to it tonight as a reward for finishing my final paper for the semester.

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My initial response to the film was to compare it to more recent police procedural stories. Even though there is no Miranda ruling in effect, I don't think the police acted much differently than they do under Miranda. At the beginning of the interview, it's quite likely that he wouldn't have been Mirandized yet, since they really didn't have enough evidence to consider him a real suspect.

I also knew that a defense attorney would have a grand time with the women witnesses at the trial of the second right/wrong man.

Rose's story, I think, gets short changed. What were the underlying insecurities that triggered her guilt? How did she get past them to walk out of the hospital completely cured two years later?

One of the things that kept coming to mind as I watched was if a $300 dental bill (a good sum then) was a big deal, how are they ever going to manage to repay the $750 that someone put up to pay his $7500 bail? How will they pay a lawyer, especially with the prospect of two trials? How much work (and money) is Manny going to miss in all of this?

One of Ken's questions is about the ending. That was for me a bit of disappointment. It does feel like a Hollywood happy ending. This family has been through the wringer for no good reason. They just go to Florida and everything is happy again.

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Vera Miles plays the wife, and she gives an extremely subtle and brilliant performance. And the implication is, of course, that she seems to have perhaps believed that he did do it, and he was guilty, and because of that her guilt drivers her crazy. I asked Hitchcock if that was the moral issue, and he said "yes" although he regretted that because he was telling a real life story he had to follow the story of the wife and her insanity and therefore felt that Fonda's story collapsed.

You know, I have to say that I disagree with Bogdanovich here; I don't think Rose believes Manny may be guilty (although I think she suggests it at one point) so much as her own guilt pushes her over the edge, including the (admittedly incidental) role she played in Manny's arrest (her budgeting, medical problem, and insurance policy). And it all just kind of bled into an all-encompassing metaphysical guilt in general.

Rose's story, I think, gets short changed. What were the underlying insecurities that triggered her guilt? How did she get past them to walk out of the hospital completely cured two years later?
Yeah, it does seem abrupt, doesn't it? But I like how the film dramatically ends with Manny slowly walking out of the hospital alone (not unlike Midge's departure in Hitchcock's subsequent Vertigo), with the "happy ending" only briefly mentioned in the closing titles. If this was based on a true story, Hitchcock clearly preferred the darker ending and only begrudgingly admitted that everything "worked out all right" in the end.

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One of Ken's questions is about the ending. That was for me a bit of disappointment. It does feel like a Hollywood happy ending. This family has been through the wringer for no good reason. They just go to Florida and everything is happy again.

I'll have to reread it to make sure, but I think that Hitchcock mentions in his interview with Truffaut that in the true story the wife did not bounce back.

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My initial reaction, not having read the thread yet. Apologies for repetitions of others and any gushing.

The Wrong Man has a lead performance by Henry Fonda that is among the best I've ever seen. He's restrained, subtle, quiet, and watchful, but one can never doubt for a moment the strong moral core that drives him to speak the truth so simply and eloquently. This is by far the most un-Hitchcockian movie that I've ever encountered

Edited by John

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Another of Ken's opening questions:

1) How important is the reminder at the beginning and the end that it is based on a true story? Does this heighten its sense of historical significance or make it seem more like an artifact of a particular time?
Although I knew it was based on a true story, it doesn't really matter, because it doesn't strike me as an uncommon occurance for some one innocent to be accused of a crime. Old story that keeps repeating. The only additional power the gain films from being based on true story is that you can't say, "well, it wouldn't really happen because we have safeguards in place." I'm not sure that Hitch couldn't have made a better fictional film on the theme. (But then I generally think that fiction is a better vehicle for ideas than true stories.)

I found it interesting that (from the special features) Hitchcock felt his usual cameo would distract from the true story feel, so appeared in silhouette in the prologue. (Visually a really neat shot.)

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Another gnawing detail that Doug's points brought to the surface was that I thought the lady at the insurance office who told Manny how much he could borrow said something to the effect of "this is how much she has paid on it..." I remember thinking it odd that Manny had made all the payments but didn't know how much he had paid. Perhaps it is just a figure of speech, or perhaps his wife actually made the payments. Either way, it complicates my assumptions from the first major scene that she is the foolish spender and he is the careful one with money. I don't know that this is a telling deatil...yet...just something that is making me go hmmmmm.

Interesting, because on rethinking this, I realize I assumed from the start that Rose was the more fiscally responsible of the two. Maybe I'm projecting something here, but I got the distinct sense that in that first scene with Manny, she is being the "good wife," shoring him up and convincing him that their money troubles are her fault ... but that once the real trouble starts, some repressed feelings about Manny's role as breadwinner seep from under the surface. Particularly, during Rose's breakdown scene with the hairbrush - I agree with Doug that she doesn't really believe Manny is guilty of the crimes, but somehow she is blaming him for not taking their finances more seriously. In that first bedside scene, for example, he keeps saying, "we're lucky people," and she's the one fretting about how to pay her dental bills. Manny's a musician, works nights, probably doesn't get paid much, but keeps a sunny attitude about money; Rose is probably the one taking care of the day-to-day expenses, trying to stretch the finances as far as they'll go, and on the surface, she takes the blame for coming up short. But something comes through - maybe through Miles' subtle performance - that she is harboring some uncharitable feelings about her husband's responsibility.

(And just now I'm remembering Manny's scene with the doctor, where he says he wants THE BEST care for his wife - of course, who wouldn't? But something in that scene also indicates, maybe, that Manny wants the best of everything, even if he hasn't the means to pay for it?)

And another scene has me wondering about Manny's role as husband and father. When he returns from jail and goes for a rest, one of his sons enters the room and tells him he's the best dad anyone could have. It was a poignant scene, and on first viewing I took it at face value - a sweet affirmation of father-son love. But then - maybe because I'm too jaded, or maybe because Hitchcock rarely explored "normal" domestic life - it occurred to me there might be some darker thing going on. Was the son simply reassuring himself that Manny is a great dad, even though somewhere under the surface - like Rose - he thinks Manny is slightly irresponsible and immature, working at a night club, presumably sleepign during the day, and maybe not spending all that much time with his boys? Is it meant to play off another level of Manny's "guilt" - that maybe he himself feels he's not such a great dad?

I have no idea, and maybe Hitch meant it to be played as a straightforward, touching scene. I'd be interested to hear what others think.

I like how the film dramatically ends with Manny slowly walking out of the hospital alone (not unlike Midge's departure in Hitchcock's subsequent Vertigo)

Yes!! I knew that scene reminded me of something Hitchcockian, but couldn't place it.

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Oh man, what a movie! I put it in at 2 AM, after I finished my paper, hoping to wind down and actually fall asleep, as if writing about the methodologies of positivism, realism and interpretivism wasn’t tiring enough.

I thought I would watch 20 minutes and get a basic feel for the film but I found myself immediately taken in and I couldn't stop watching. However, I was a bit apprehensive when I saw how unbelievable H. Fonda was at playing the upright bass.

I have a short bit more to watch as I was interrupted by a baby who wanted to eat, and it wasn’t me. I am looking forward to finishing the movie and reading the posts.

Edited by asher

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John, thanks so much for your formal observations regarding the film--they vividly bring back so many shots I had forgotten and it will serve as a nice catalogue of examples for subsequent discussion.

Now that you've mentioned the many shots featuring Manny's feet (Hitchcock love those physical procedures and rituals almost as much as Bresson!), it reminds me how much of the film is shot in high or low angles, but amazingly, not in Hitchcock's typical expressionist manner, but in a much more subtle, documentary-like manner. But between watching seeing Manny up on stage or descending into the subway or walking up the steps to his house or lying down in bed, the film really emphasizes his isolation by those vertical extremes.

And while I've been focusing on Hitchcock's notions of universal guilt and Manny's seeming "failures" (horses, "presumption and despair"), Fonda's performance is truly astonishing and Manny is clearly as much of a genuine man of integrity as could exist in a Hitchcock film. It would be so easy for Manny to come off as simple and naive, but he doesn't, thanks to the strength of Fonda's incredibly natural and nuanced performance.

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Now that you've mentioned the many shots featuring Manny's feet (Hitchcock love those physical procedures and rituals almost as much as Bresson!), it reminds me how much of the film is shot in high or low angles, but amazingly, not in Hitchcock's typical expressionist manner, but in a much more subtle, documentary-like manner. But between watching seeing Manny up on stage or descending into the subway or walking up the steps to his house or lying down in bed, the film really emphasizes his isolation by those vertical extremes.

Doug, I hadn't thought about those different angles creating a sense of isolation, but I like that. There is a great deal of emphasis in his movements, and I love the observation about the steps (as you say in the subway and at home, but also the stage in the office building where the lawyer is located, at his parents house, before and after his arraignment hearing). I wonder how all of those scenes of him on steps compare/contrast with his wife's ascent at the asylum? Certainly she too is in her own kind of isolation, but now for the first time he is watching someone do what he's been doing the whole time.

(As an aside, I'm reminded of long hallways, in Manny's house, when they are searching for the eye-witnesses, and at the hospital after he visits Rose. No time to think more about this now, but I wanted it here for the record.)

I was also thinking of how the many angled shots, both from high and low, create a sense of chaos, both informing the path of the narrative, but also communicating things about Manny's experience. Part of what I love so much about the sequence I described above is the complete lack of understanding he seems to have about what is going on. He seems almost kind of "deer in headlights" about the whole thing, not even understanding the rather simple procedure at the arraignment. This would also go along with observations above about the "ferris wheel shot," which communicates its own sense of chaos. I know my reaction to the many and varied angles was a kind of disorientation that I suspect Manny was going through as well.

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Hey everyone:

I finally had a chance to watch this with my wife this evening - despite being rather fatigued at the end of a demanding week, I was nonetheless caught up in a great story, directed by a master storyteller. I've been watching lots of foreign films lately, but aside from the occasional Buster Keaton comedy, not many black and white movies, so it was also a treat to be reminded of the beauty and power of a B&W art film.

Anywho, a few thoughts, comments, etc.:

- Thanks for getting the ball rolling, Ken - those are some great questions. And as with previous 'film club' discussions, it's a pleasure reading thru everyone's comments, as they add so much depth to my understanding and appreciation of the film at hand.

- Ditto the previous comments about Fonda's acting - despite being briefly distracted a couple of times by his non-ethnic appearance and accent, especially in comparison to his blood relatives, overall I was still taken in by his convincing depiction of fear, bewilderment, and ultimate integrity.

- Speaking of distraction, was anyone else put off by Herrmann's film score? There were a couple of points where the muted horn 'wah wah's' jarred me out of the moment and detracted from the suspense. For both better and worse, in my opinion, the music dates the film to a significant degree.

- I'm glad you brought up the gender issues, Ken. The attitudes both toward authority figures and toward gender issues seem to squarely place this film in the '50's. As others have pointed out, at film's end, Manny is all smiles and deference towards the policeman, and all of his ire is directed towards the holdup man, not toward the cops who wrongly charged him. (As one who has watched his share of contemporary cop shows, it was interesting to see Manny and Rose doing the investigative work that police detectives would apparently do these days, such as attempting to track down the boxer with whom Manny played cards while on vacation.)

As for gender issues, is it coincidence that it is mainly members of the 'weaker sex' who wrongly finger Manny? Similarly, is it only chance that Rose collapses under the strain, while Manny remains (mostly)strong, only briefly giving in to despair?

Lastly on this topic, it was interesting in the scene with the physician to note how he first addresses Manny, and spends most of his time explaining things to him, even though Rose is the patient.

- And, as a shrink, I can't resist making a couple of clinical comments. In my opinion, Hitch succeeded wonderfully in convincingly portraying a woman in the throes of either a 'psychotic reaction' or a psychotic depressive episode. I suspect the latter, given her fairly classic delusions of guilt, accompanied by loss of interest, appetite, and normal sleep patterns. My grasp of the history of psychiatry is not quite precise, but I believe the film's events would be right in the era when antipsychotics and antidepressants were only just becoming available, so placing a severely ill patient in such a peaceful milieu as we see Rose entering would've been perhaps the best (and only) treatment available at this time - and a 2 year hospital stay would not have been all that unusual.

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::Is there currently any thought about the causes of psychotic depressive episode, or what that means beyond someone exhibiting these symptoms?

Sure - psychotic depression, as I understand it, is generally thought to be an infrequent 'natural' extension of a more uncomplicated depressive episode. Depression will typically start with relatively mild symptoms, such as disturbed sleep and low mood, and if it persists, more severe symptoms may ensue, such as hopelessness, suicidal thinking, and psychosis.

The psychotic symptoms of depression often have a distinctive flavor, compared to, say, schizophrenia. Whereas in schizophrenia, paranoia and auditory hallucinations often predominate; in psychotic depression, there are often fixed false beliefs (i.e. delusions) involving intense and unrealistic guilt, sometimes with religious undertones.

As to why some people's depression becomes psychotic and for others it remains more benign, I don't know that anyone has a definitive answer to that. I suspect that it's a combination of genetic predisposition to depression, severity of environmental stressors, and access and use of treatment. On this last point, it's believed that psychotic depression was more common in the years and centuries predating the availability of antidepressants (cf. the woes of poet and hymnwriter William Cowper - a fascinating life to study, if you ever have the chance).

::Not that it's any of my business, but I'm interested to hear what your wife thought, both about Rose's character and the film in general.

I'll be happy to ask her - she was pretty tired when the movie ended last night, so we haven't had much of a chance to discuss it.

Edited by Andrew

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I don't think it's an intentional ruse. I've read it reported that Maxwell's story (novel?) was based on a Life magazine article, but the most detailed description I've found regarding the evolution of the screenplay can be found here.

Thanks for your psychological insights, Andrew!

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My grasp of the history of psychiatry is not quite precise, ....

We could get you in touch with Tom Cruise. He has a great grasp on the history of psych. :blink:

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::We could get you in touch with Tom Cruise. He has a great grasp on the history of psych.

Oh thanks, Darrel - that would be a true educational treat!

::Not that it's any of my business, but I'm interested to hear what your wife thought, both about Rose's character and the film in general.

We talked about the film for a while yesterday, on the way back from buying our Christmas tree. She wasn't as gripped by the film as many of us were (preferring some of his better-known films), but still enjoyed it.

From a sociological standpoint, she actually hadn't noticed the gender role issues until I brought them up. As a document of its times, she was more struck by the formal garb worn by everyone for routine outings, etc., as well as the (pre-answering machine and pre-email) centrality of the telephone in the family home. Given the homier setting and more gradual pacing of this film, compared to many of Hitch's films, one has more opportunity to notice such things.

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I know this is going to sound a little unbelievable but it is true. I had a very similar experience to Manny when I was 18 years old and, consequently, no longer a juvenile.

I was walking home one evening, through apart of town I ordinarily wouldn

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Wow, thanks for sharing that. Unbelievable. So I take it the film resonated with you? ;)

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Let me switch a bit to the political side of this.

This comes out in the post-McCarthy period. The issue of an innocent person not needing to be afraid of anything had been brought into question. But then, that issue is never really gone. How broadly are we willing to think of the implications in our setting? PATRIOT USA Act and the issues of civil liberties vs. security? DWB and other brands of racial profiling? The number of exonerated death row inmates?

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An excellent point, Darrel. This is one of those instances where the "world" the director creates accurately reflects his themes as well as facet of the real world and all of its ashers and Mannys--which is, no doubt, why Hitchock's "wrongly accused man" syndrome expressed in so many of his films continues to resonate with people.

It's good to have films like this to remind us that our legal system is not infallible and that injustices to civil liberties can and do occur in democracies as well as more overtly oppressive societies.

Edited by Doug C

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