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kenmorefield

Film Club: The Wrong Man

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And even deeper and more fundamentally, it's actually a little scary what sort of elements any legal system has to work with. Eyewitness identification is so shaky and unreliable. There are so many reasons not to trust things seen in the heat of provocation, or surprise, or for a flickering instant. Take license plate numbers. I know you won't really find people wrongly jailed because a witness or cop remembered a number wrong, but sometimes I play a game with myself on the road. I see a license plate for an instant and try to remember it. Under most circumstances, it's impossible to remember more than a letter or two. Facial details aren't really all that different from license plate numbers. I'm trying to remember the face of the person that took my money at lunch.

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It took me back to something I've been meaning to mention--the opening shots of the Stork Club. These shots are contrasted early with the domestic ones, but it occurs to me they are also a nice contrast to the epilogue/closing shot of the couple in Florida.

Ah yes, I've been meaning to comment on that series of opening shots (if you'll notice, there are some subtle dissolves from the same angle throughout the sequence); it's such a conspicuous title sequence when that milieu remains decidedly de-emphasized for the rest of the picture. I love your idea of it depicting the untouchable world Manny and his friends serve and especially your interesting comparison to the shot in The Crying Game.

And yes, there is something about the way the police withdraw, trade, confer, and re-present the notes that almost screams sleight-of-hand.

* * * *

Looks like it's time to cue Andrew's insights into memory--that it's constructive, fills in gaps, changes over time, etc.

Russ, have you been able to track down the Truffaut book? I loaned mine out to someone a couple years ago and never saw it again. :(

Edited by Doug C

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::Looks like it's time to cue Andrew's insights into memory--that it's constructive, fills in gaps, changes over time, etc.

Ha! Actually, you were a step ahead of me, Doug...I hadn't thought about this, but you're absolutely right. If we'd been having this conversation in the early '90's, we'd be talking about 'false memory syndrome,' a la the day care sexual abuse cases. While I would never go so far as some extremists in mental health research, who won't believe a trauma narrative unless it's verifiable by objective evidence, memory certainly is mutable and highly suggestible, especially in high stress situations (e.g., a holdup) - hardly something to utterly rely upon, when doing so could devastate a family.

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Oh, btw, this doesn't fit anywhere, but did anyone besides me try to freeze frame when the police were handling the various writing samples that Manny made? Sheesh, talk about a shell game. That aspect reminded me of Ludovic Kennedy's The Airman and the Carpenter, which was later adapted into an HBO film The Crime of the Century. In it, Kennedy claims that notes written in police custody were used as evidence against Bruno Hauptman in the Lindbergh case because certain misspellings were consistent with the ransom note, but Hauptman claimed that the police told him to write them with those particular misspellings so that they could compare two notes that were identical and just focus on the handwriting.

I didn't freeze frame (watching VHS, not DVD), but I tried to pay close attention to the cops' shuffling of the papers, and commented to my wife, "They're trapping him!" It was a great moment of suspense - even though we knew Manny would be charged, it was one of those "NO, don't write it, Manny!" moments. Was it mere coincidence that Manny wrote "draw" instead of "drawer," or had they shown him the legitimate note beforehand to plant the word in his brain? I can't recall if Manny saw the note first, or if the cops read it to him. (Talk about faulty memory syndrome ... it's only been a week since I've seen it, and already I forget.)

Eyewitness identification is so shaky and unreliable. There are so many reasons not to trust things seen in the heat of provocation, or surprise, or for a flickering instant. Take license plate numbers. I know you won't really find people wrongly jailed because a witness or cop remembered a number wrong, but sometimes I play a game with myself on the road. I see a license plate for an instant and try to remember it. Under most circumstances, it's impossible to remember more than a letter or two. Facial details aren't really all that different from license plate numbers. I'm trying to remember the face of the person that took my money at lunch.

While I would never go so far as some extremists in mental health research, who won't believe a trauma narrative unless it's verifiable by objective evidence, memory certainly is mutable and highly suggestible, especially in high stress situations (e.g., a holdup) - hardly something to utterly rely upon, when doing so could devastate a family.

There's lots of eyewitness memory research out there as you guys are aware; the social/ethnic aspects of Wrong Man remind me of a couple of researchers I interviewed a few years ago. They set up a slide show, and had 100 or so research subjects view a series of people - different skin colors, different clothing, etc. - in various social interactions (e.g. fast-food restaurant, retail store). A crime or transgression, such as shoplifting or littering, was implied but not shown. After the fact, subjects were asked to say whether they had seen each person in the slide show commit the crime, and were more than twice as likely to claim they had seen the ethnic-looking person doing the deed - even though the alleged crime was never shown. Something else to chew on re: the film as social commentary.

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...it was one of those "NO, don't write it, Manny!" moments.

Ha!

A fascinating and disturbing study, Mark. There was also a variant of that in the '40s, when psychologists showed subjects a photograph of two people in a subway, a white man holding a razor and a black man, and one volunteer was to look at the photograph and describe to the next person, who would then describe it to the next person, and so on. Well, you guessed it...after a handful of retellings, the razor was being described as being held by the black man. Seeing and telling often adapt to culturally dominant conventions.

Edited by Doug C

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A variety of essays on Hitchcock at Images. Alas, none on TWM.

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Thanks, Darrel!

BTW, I flipped through the Truffaut book at a bookstore today and found the section on The Wrong Man to be particularly lackluster. Truffaut tries to tell Hitchcock how a "lesser" filmmaker might have made a better film because he or she might have made it even more documentary-like; Hitchcock responds by saying, Apparently you want me to work for the art houses; Truffaut quickly denies it yet continues to suggest ways in which the film could've been better; etc.

It's a great introductory film studies book, but it's pretty humorous reading how the two stroke each other's egos and oscillate between rote dismissal and exalted glorification of Hitchcock's oeuvre. :)

But Hitchcock does begin the discussion by mentioning that he first saw the story in Life magazine.

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I really don

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I really don

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I just don't think anyone should shy away from participating because they don't want to repeat a thought. It's not a race and it's not a competition and everyone is different.

Thanks for stating that, Doug. Trying to get the book club off the ground, I've wondered if this is a big problem we have over there - fear of repetition, or of having a different take on something that doesn't "measure up" to what someone has already stated. Not sure how to combat it, but glad you reiterated that all the input is valuable!

I didn

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I just don't think anyone should shy away from participating because they don't want to repeat a thought. It's not a race and it's not a competition and everyone is different.

I agree with this statement, which is why I posted, but it can get overwhelming wanting to catch up.

And for me, one of the things that makes the film fascinating is how it manages to be so multilayered while being so austere and "simplistic" in many ways.

How could one say it better than that.

Fonda's performance matches it in every way--so apparently uninflected and natural, yet shaded with so much subtlety. And you're right--his character is definitely Italian and the ethnic casting of his brother only emphasized Fonda's classic American look. Both probably should have been Italian or American--consistency is everything when it comes to stuff like this!

Yet, I think the character choice (if it is not mirroring reality) adds to the dimension of Manny's background. He appears to be first generation American, which may explain his mild temperment. Trying to adjust as a young boy and youth during a time when people were very aware of the predjudices towards ethinicity. It may also explain why he married an obiously caucasian woman. This may serve as an assimilation vehicle for validation as an American man. Maybe his sister married an immigrant because she is more tied to the traditional family, maybe it was arranged? This could also explain why the brother-in-law is so controlling during the brief conversation with the police.

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Mark tipped me off about this thread which I would otherwise have missed - thanks again Mark.

By a brilliant coincidence this happened to be showing in TCM during the short period I'm staying at my inlaws who have it? Divine providence -probably not, wonder how that impacts my reading of the miracles.

Anyway. when I've had time to read everyone else's thought's I'll chime in with my own.

Have a good Christmas all

Matt

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hooooo - where to start...

I suppoe first up I should start with couple of admissions. Firstly, I never really twigged that Fomda was playing a significantly ethnic character. I did consider that his name was unusual for a classic American looking man, but never thought more of it! (Actually though IMDB says that "The Fonda family name comes from Italy, by way of the Netherlands." so perhaps Manny is an american italian that has adjusted to the culture significantly. The fact that his character's first, but rejected, name is Christopher, a more English namemight be significant - but probably that's just me trying to weasel out of it.

Secondly, as usual at the start of films I watch there is some confusion at the start of the film, so I missed the whole "true story" thing from Hitch. That makes a significant difference IMHO. I spent quite a part of the film wondering if Fonda would turn out to be the right man, and that the whole thing might be a very Hitchcockian joke on us. I don't think I would have though this if I had known it was real. Watching the film without that certainly gives a certain filter.

As for the film itself, so much has already been covered, but here are a few extra thoughts....

The framing of the first scene in the insurance office really stood out to me. You see Manny and the clerk on opposite sides of these bars. Bars become a very significant visual image in this film in general, but here they are used to great effect as a metonym (?) for the criminal justice system. As the scene cuts from PoV shots from Manny, to the clerk's PoV shots. it shows the bars all the time . The bars seprate them from that point on, as Manny is on one side of the justice system and those that accuse him are on the other side. Manny is alwatys on the wrong side of the law so to speak.

The other thing I noticed in this scene is the way that the clerk who Manny talks to first has an incredibly pivotal role. At first she seems to have been an eyewitness, but as the film pans out she seems to have been less and less involved. What is significant is that she plants the idea in the minds of her colleagues so they never really approach the issue from a neutral stand point. So suggests first to the supervisor that he is the man (even though the supervisor appears not to have had a good look at her) and then togther they convince the real eyewitness he was the man before she even has a look. The actual eyewitness is so scared of the man she never takes a good look at him, and even in the ID parade the original accuser is right by her.

Going back to that bars shot I think it suggests her guilt and that she should be "behind bars", in a sense, for what she did as much as Manny. I'd be interested to see the two ID parade shots again.

Secondly, One of the things the pocket essentials guide to Hitch points out is the way that we know nothing of Manny's emotions from the dialogue, and everything of what he's feeling because the acting, and use of the camera is so strong.

The other thing that I thought was interesting was comparison to other Fonda roles. I've only seen him, really, in two other roles. Once Upon a Time in the West (only once and a long time ago), and more recently (twice) in 12 Angry Men. In case anyone hasn't seen the latter film, the comparisons are so obvious between the two roles that you have to wonder if the decision to shoot the latter film was based on this earlier one. Fondas role is different of course, but as far as they go both films deal with a wrongly accused ethnic man, being put up on flimsy evidence, and then being acquitted. In both films, Fonda's eyes convince the audience from early on that the accused is not guilty so we root for them.

I was also interested that this was one of the most pro-police films from Hitchcock, and also by todays wrongful arrest standards. the police are always polite to Manny, and ultimtaely they catch the right man.

I really liked the ending FWIW too. I think the discussion of when Hitch made it is somewhat irrelevant. He was working in an era when he would have had to end the film in a certyain way, so whether he only eventually gave in under pressure, or he decided to avoid the confrontation and just put in that ending from the start, or whther he subconciously had it drilled into him that all his film had to have a just ending is not as significant as the way he protrays that "happy ending". Here the ending is very marginally less diturbing than if she had sufddenly recovered, but really the film ends when she fails to immediately recover. the epilogue is largely irrelevant..

I also wondered if anyone had any thoughts on the scene between the two boys playing piano and harmonica. Typically there is very little fat in Hitch's films, and this film is no exception generally, so what is the significance of this? Manny deals with the situation far better than his wife here, and perhaps this underlies the way the two characters find themselves at odds with the roles society has with them (c.f the comments about handling finances by you guys above). In fact generally Manny is very good with people, whereas his wife isn't. I also wonder whther the two boys relate in some way to manny and his wife, and the way they will handle the forthcoming trials - I reckon I nned to see that scene again.

Lastly, couldn't help but be shocked by Asher's story above. But I also couldn't help noticing that what you actually wrote was :

Anyway, the police said someone driving by recognized me as the person they saw steal the bike. I said,

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Great observations, Matt - I'm glad you joined the discussion. I found your observations about the bars in the opening scene at the insurance office, and about Asher's story, to be especially insightful. And this is interesting...

::this was one of the most pro-police films from Hitchcock, and also by todays wrongful arrest standards. the police are always polite to Manny, and ultimtaely they catch the right man.

...because the police aren't terribly admirable here: They come close to destroying a family after they book the wrong guy after a shoddy investigation (remember, how Manny and his wife, not the police, are the ones who attempt to search out the fellow vacationers to support his alibi). And it's only because of a couple of quick-thinking shopkeepers who make a citizens' arrest that the alleged right guy is caught.

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I also wondered if anyone had any thoughts on the scene between the two boys playing piano and harmonica. Typically there is very little fat in Hitch's films, and this film is no exception generally, so what is the significance of this? Manny deals with the situation far better than his wife here, and perhaps this underlies the way the two characters find themselves at odds with the roles society has with them (c.f the comments about handling finances by you guys above).

This is a great observation, Matt, and it reminds me that I've been wondering about Hitchcock's conspicuous use of children throughout the film--several key scenes involve kids, such as when Manny and Rose try to visit one of their witnesses, and the giggling children (Hitchcock even delays their appearance) finally open the door and share the bad news...almost as if they're making fun of Manny's predicament. And even though Manny's kids are sometimes disruptive, they are also encouraging. Any thoughts?

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::Does anyone want to make anything of Christopher Emmanuel's middle name?

Without knowing if his middle name is true to life, or what Hitchcock's religious beliefs were, I'm not sure if this is mere coincidence or if there is some intentional symbolism here (i.e. the first Emmanuel as an innocent sufferer of injustice at the hands of corrupt civil authorities, etc.).

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Uhm, there's a *mystery* about Hitch's religious beliefs? Everything I'd read indicated that he was raised Catholic, was lax about practicing it, but largely believed what that religion taught (to the extent that he had any opinions on The Big Questions), and was always quick to reference it when interviewed, say, the Guilt Theme in his oeuvre.

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::Uhm, there's a *mystery* about Hitch's religious beliefs?

Uhm, for this viewer there was anyway. Thanks for your additional information.

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: The Police

Yeah they weren't particularly efficient cops, but they did stick out like a sore thumb in contrast to the standard portrayal of the police in the wrongful arrest genre.

: The children

Hadn't thought about those children, I guess the other key child scene is the one with just Manny and his elder son.

FWIW I looked up the various references to this film in Robin Wood's revised edition of "Hitchcock's Films Revisited" and he makes a number of points, most of which were so obvious I'm disappointed to have missed them myself.

Firstly in comparing it to other Hitchcock films he compares it in particular with three films.

1 - The Birds. He notes how although on one level the film are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, given that TWM is about a true story, and that The Birds is Hitch's most fantastical work. But on another level they both are primarily about the precariousness of the way of life which we aree used to, how much we take for granted, and how it could all so easily be changed

2 - North by North-West - similarly this film has the above theme as well as well as being one of the main examples of HItch's "falsely accused man" theme that runs through so many of his films (39 Steps being another example among many).

3 - Blackmail - Wood compares the opening scene of this film with Manny's arrest. In Blackmail the character is also arrested at home. Other than the presence of a gun we are given no indication as to whether he actually is guilty or not, just that the detedctives are sure, and gain a conviction. I can't remember what other points Wood makes to link the two films, and the book is 100 miles away at present!

Matt

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Thanks for your summary, Matt. How is Wood's revised book, by the way? His original text was required reading at my university, but I've heard his PC revisions makes it a cumbersome read now.

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well not having read the original it's difficult to say....

But, it's difficult to understand the book's development. It started off as Hitchcock's films, then later he revisited the subject matter adding a whole range of new chapters, he also wrote notes on his original text rather than just changing it which was quite effective. And then more recently he revised that book, and at some point he added a second great long, and more personal introduction.

As a book I like it. I like the personal introduction he gives. It works well with one of the points he is at pains to make - that it's his perspective rather than definitive facts he's dealing in, and his whole journey from a Leavisian type approach to something else is quite good too.

What is difficult is if you are trying to get his opinion about a film, as for some of them , particularly say Marnie, his opinion has shifted. Personally though I like even that as it means you get to think through the film twice comparing it to different perspectives.

I think I wrote some more on the Favourite Hitchcocks thread. AH yes - this

FWIW I also got Robin Woods book on Hitchcock "Hitchcock's Films revisited" and the version I got was the revised edition. It's the funniest strcture in any acadmic non-fiction book I can think of. I read 80 odd pages before I got onto any info on Hitchcock at all. All fascinating stuff though. You get to read the original book as it was, with only endnotes commenting on how he disagrees / finds weaknesses with it. Then you get a transition essay from the 70s, then you get a collection of updating essays he wrote in the 80s, and then as this is the revised edition you also get a substantial preface to the revised edition in which he explains his whole life which he says gives a context to the film criticism he produces (he's a strong believer in the personal nature of film criticism rather than the objective school).

FWIW Other Hitchcock threads are listed here

Matt

Edited by MattPage

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I was reading over some of my notes and was reminded of something odd in this movie.

There were these odd bell sounds, dings, that happened twice in the film. Each time happened in the bedroom of Manny and his wife. Did anyone else notice? What is your taKe on these little chimes?

Another note that I came across, and has been touched on here, is that Manny naturally assumes the guy is guilty when all he is told is, "They caught him." Manny then overhears the same women, who fingered him, finger the new culprit. How can these women be so certain twice? And why does Manny allow the opinion of these women to determine the other man's guilt? Afterall, they were wrong about Manny.

Manny is really doing the same thing that was done to him. Someone says, "That man did it. He is guilty." Therefore Manny decides the man is guilty.

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Your second point is a great observation Asher.

Matt

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So does that mean no one here heard those chimes, dings, bell, whatever it was?

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I didn't hear them asher, but if I did, I might wonder if they were some kind of clock or similar contraption. That's at least what they sound like from your description. :)

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