Plot: Manny (Henry Fonda) is a musician and loving family man, but times have been tough and his financial situation is unstable. His wife Rose (Vera Miles) is laid up with painful impacted wisdom teeth, which means the family’s finances are soon to be even tighter, with a sizable dentist’s bill on the horizon. While he doesn’t have the hundreds needed to fund Rose’s dental work, he plans to borrow against her life insurance and make sure her current need is taken care of. But the trip to the bank to take out the loan is the start of an unbelievable chain of events, one that has him involved with the police and accused of several armed robberies. Although he swears innocence, the evidence seems to suggest otherwise, with eye witnesses, handwriting samples, and even more piling up against him. but can he figure out some way to prove he is innocent or will he be sent up the river?
Entertainment Value: This movie wasn’t an instant classic, but over time, Alfred Hitchcock’s paranoia fueled thriller has won over movie buffs and is quite a unique piece of his filmography. As The Wrong Man was based on a true story, Hitchcock wanted a more realistic approach to this film adaptation. The result does feel more grounded at times, with authentic locations and an almost documentary feel at times, but it is also quite cinematic in its own right. I think the superb visual design, especially the camera angles ensure this feels stylish, even if The Wrong Man doesn’t have as much flash or kinetic presence at times. I think once the spiral of paranoia begins, this is a pure, powerful fix of Hitchcock magic, with effective tension, suspicion around every corner, and a look into the abyss that can be the human mind. The pace is tight, but never feels rushed, the cast is fantastic, and the atmosphere is tense, so it might be a little less on the bells & whistles, but this still great work from Hitchcock.
One of the main reasons the movie works so well, at least for me, is the slow burn, gradual descent into darkness that takes place, centered on the relationship between Manny and Rose. The breakdown of Rose’s psyche is masterful cinema, as she starts to unravel piece by piece, for reasons that make sense and this realistic downward spiral adds so much to the movie. And immense credit has to be given to Vera Miles, as her performance makes the most of the material and her slide into madness is a true sight to behold. She is able to bring across the gradual mental degradation with such skill, with minimal melodrama, even in intense moments. Henry Fonda is excellent as well, in a subdued, but powerful turn. His performance really shines in the small touches and just a look or expression from him can work wonders. An interesting narrative, a great cast, and skilled, stylish direction from one of the all time cinematic greats, that’s quite a pedigree. I’d recommend this to anyone with an interest in Hitchcock, suspense/thrillers, or great movies in general, as it just that good.