Film Club: The Wrong Man
Posted 18 December 2005 - 09:57 PM
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.
Posted 18 December 2005 - 11:16 PM
I was walking home one evening, through apart of town I ordinarily wouldn’t be walking through but I happened to drop off my car at repair place and had to walk home. Cars drove by and I didn’t think anything of it, even after the same car drove by several times, progressively slower with each passing.
The next thing I knew a police car pulled up along side of me and asked me if they could ask me some questions. Much like Manny, I said sure, I hadn’t done anything wrong. It was a little chilly and starting to rain so when they asked if I wanted to get in the car I said, “sure” (mistake number one). They proceeded to ask me where I was walking to, where I lived and why I was walking – I answered all of their questions honestly. They asked if I would like a lift home, again, thinking nothing of it I said, “Sure, thanks.”
As the squad pulled away from where we were stopped they told me that someone had a very expensive bicycle stolen from the area recently. This person was an amateur competitor of some sort. Anyway, the police said someone driving by recognized me as the person they saw steal the bike. I said, “Well, they must be mistaken. I did steal anything. I have a car.” The police officer on the passenger’s side of the car said that they will have to take me to the station for questioning. I told them I needed to let my parents know first. They said, “Sure. How old are you?” I said, “Eighteen” (second mistake). They said they could just take me in then.
Long story short, I spent 3 nights in county jail before I went to a bond trial, where my bond was set at $10,000. In the end, it wasn’t difficult to prove my innocence but I should have never had to go through any of that.
Posted 19 December 2005 - 10:20 AM
Posted 19 December 2005 - 10:35 AM
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?
Posted 19 December 2005 - 11:01 AM
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, 19 December 2005 - 11:02 AM.
Posted 19 December 2005 - 05:28 PM
Posted 19 December 2005 - 06:51 PM
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.
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, 19 December 2005 - 06:52 PM.
Posted 19 December 2005 - 09:31 PM
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.
Posted 20 December 2005 - 11:05 AM
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.
Posted 20 December 2005 - 11:23 AM
...it was one of those "NO, don't write it, Manny!" moments.
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, 20 December 2005 - 11:24 AM.
Posted 22 December 2005 - 02:12 AM
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.
Posted 22 December 2005 - 11:38 AM
I approached this movie with the idea that Alfred might simply be creating (influencing) the frame of mind from which he wanted the audience to think from. Of course, from the beginning something in me wanted it to be real. The “This is real” statement has a more profound affect even after it is revealed that it isn’t real, however, “It could have really happened.” It is kind of like the comic whose standup routine is based on real life and you sit there saying, “That is sooo true,” laughing even harder because the reflection is almost embarrassing, thus the internal affect is more pronounced then a “A priest, a nun and an Irishman walk into a bar…” kind of joke. Real life situations make you think much more immediately in terms of reality.
I wonder, though, if I had thought from the beginning that it couldn’t be real, if Hitchcock would not have made the initial pronouncement, would it have been the same experience. Like Fargo, would that film have been a different experience had the Coen boys not created the “based on actual events, however all names have been change to protect the…blah…blah…blah” intro?
It seems that this movie is much more telling of the viewer. It reads like a well written article, in that, there are so many things to consider and elements of factoids to create fodder, that there are many perspective paths to define as a theme. The story is presented in such a way that we have enough information in many areas, i.e., the legal system, the familial bond, the marriage relationship, guilt and innocence. In this respect, the viewer would pick up on what interests him/herself and follow that theme through.
I believe Hitchcock tried to remain true to the actual telling of the story so, naturally, there would be many elements that get left out because they simply cannot be told. The movie is really about a wrongful arrest and the far reaching effects that have, it is not about the dissolution of a marriage or immigration or night clubs from that era. I am rethinking these comments as I type and may place an addendum, or revision, later after mulling over my own thoughts.
I am in complete agreement with everyone regarding Henry Fonda’s performance. He was so reserved and held back that it had a lot of punch and reminded me of his Tom Joad in ‘Grapes of Wrath. I didn’t find the ethnicity to be as distracting (maybe for a second). His look (a little too heavy on the eye makeup) reminded me of an older Italian man. He wasn’t Spanish, or Latino, because he didn’t speak to the Spanish speaking woman in the apartments very well. The problem I had was that he seemed a bit tall. The other problem I had was the bother-in-law, he was way too ethnic. If they changed that character it would have been less distracting, however, that may have been how the family really was since this is based on an “actual” experience.
Posted 22 December 2005 - 12:31 PM
I really don’t have any more to add than what has already been said and a lot has been said.
Maybe I'll repost this in the general film club thread. 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 like your comments about reality and humor and how we perceive the significance of a story's basis in reality. Of course, for the Coens, it's just a joke about a cinematic device, but that device does have an unusual effect on the viewer. There is a whole range of affect between cinéma vérité to essay film to dramatic recreation to fiction to fantasy, and we really process those premises differently on an emotional level, don't we? It's fascinating.
Posted 22 December 2005 - 01:12 PM
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’t find the ethnicity to be as distracting (maybe for a second). His look (a little too heavy on the eye makeup) reminded me of an older Italian man. He wasn’t Spanish, or Latino, because he didn’t speak to the Spanish speaking woman in the apartments very well. The problem I had was that he seemed a bit tall. The other problem I had was the bother-in-law, he was way too ethnic. If they changed that character it would have been less distracting, however, that may have been how the family really was since this is based on an “actual” experience.
First, let me admit my embarrassment over not realizing the family was Italian, since all four of my grandparents were Italian immigrants ... but this brings us back to the psychological studies we talked about, and Ken's question about Fonda as an ethnic character. The reason the political implications of the plot - and whether racism-ethnocentrism played a role in the police tactics - weren't immediately evident to me, was because I had no idea Fonda was supposed to be "ethnic." But otherwise, I agree, his performance was super.
FWIW, I'll be signing off my computer soon to start a 10-day vacation, so ... Merry Christmas (or "happy holidays") to my fellow Film Clubbers, and other A&F'ers!
Posted 22 December 2005 - 01:12 PM
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.
How could one say it better than that.
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.
Posted 24 December 2005 - 06:37 AM
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
Posted 26 December 2005 - 06:49 AM
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 :
Given the way that Manny's written slip causes him so much difficulty in the film, that slip lept out at me.
Posted 26 December 2005 - 09:51 AM
::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.
Posted 27 December 2005 - 12:38 PM
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?