Saturday, June 13, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
This film took a random case of mistaken identity and effectively demonstrated how it can snowball into something with major consequences. 

It's a film noir that lacks violence or even an identifiable bad guy. 

The viewer might think the police are the bad guys but they are just doing their jobs. Some are a bit more committed to their jobs than others. The real "bad guy" is an indifferent and uncaring universe. This movie was based on a true life story. 

This film demonstrates why going down to the police station to help cops "clear some things up" is almost never a good idea. This movie was set in a time when police were not limited by such things as Miranda warnings. As we've seen in numerous recent real life incidents police will break rules when they feel they can get away with it, but it's still important for a suspect, especially if he or she is innocent, not to make things easy for the police.

Someone who is innocent, who has never had any trouble with the police before and regards them either as heroic or as necessary evil will not have the required paranoia or fear regarding dealings with police and the law enforcement system. The person may honestly believe that the police only bother guilty people. So that person may think that once he tells the police what really happened, he'll be quickly let go with an apology.

Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is a New York jazz/pop bassist. He's not a person who apparently gets a lot of joy from his music. He's a working stiff. He's not the leader of the band, nor does he get many solo opportunities. People aren't coming to hear him play. He's strictly there to provide rhythm and background support.

Manny doesn't make a lot of money to support his wife (Vera Miles) and two sons. Manny may not get the holy spirit when he's playing at work but he does get excited when he gets home to his family. He loves them more than anything. The family is just scraping by financially, something that occasionally embarrasses Manny but Rose is quick to remind him that she's with him for better or worse. 

Rose and Manny love each other madly. Rose needs to have some dental work done. For various reasons there's really not the cash to afford the work. It's not like the family has $300 just lying around. 

So being the dutiful husband, Manny bundles himself off to the insurance company to see about borrowing that amount against Rose's policy. Rose and Manny have already borrowed the limit against his policy.

But instead of a simple yes or no, the insurance company secretaries tell Manny he'll need to return with his wife. Manny thinks this is odd. He didn't need to come to the office when his wife borrowed.

Nevertheless, Manny agrees to go get his wife. Manny discovers when he's picked up by the police, there was a reason for the insurance company workers' odd behavior. They think that Manny robbed them. The police blame Manny for other robberies. They force him to enter stores where he's also identified as the robber. The detectives (Charles Cooper and Harold Stone) use a few underhanded tricks to confirm their suspicion of Manny's guilt. The police misinterpret some incidents from Manny's past. And just like that Manny is arrested and charged.

This event and subsequent misfortunes take a toll on Manny but a much deeper one on Rose, who wrongly blames herself for her husband's predicament. The couple can't afford a top line lawyer. They get one (Anthony Qualye) who won't charge much because he has no criminal defense experience. The lawyer is learning on the job, something that worries the couple. 

Fonda did a great job portraying a man whose belief in the system is sorely tested. This film is a moody masterpiece. There is no Mr. Big pulling the strings to bring ruin onto Manny. That's what makes his predicament even worse. Manny is punching against the shadows of the justice system. Everyone involved is seemingly doing their job correctly but the outcome is wrong, as far as Manny can see.

Check out this movie. It combines existential dread and realism. It would almost be a horror movie except that the monster is random chance. 
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