The Wrong Man is a 1956 American docudrama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Henry Fonda and Vera Miles. The film was drawn from the true story of an innocent man charged with a crime, as described in the book The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero by Maxwell Anderson and in the magazine article "A Case of Identity" (Life magazine, June 29, 1953) by Herbert Brean.
It is one of the few Hitchcock films based on a true story and whose plot closely follows the real-life events.
The Wrong Man had a notable effect on two significant directors: it prompted Jean-Luc Godard's longest piece of written criticism in his years as a critic, and it has been cited as an influence on Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver.
For the only time in his many films, Alfred Hitchcock starts this picture talking to the camera and says that "every word is true" in this story.
Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda), a down-on-his-luck musician at New York City's Stork Club, is in a money crunch. His wife, Rose (Vera Miles), needs to have her wisdom teeth extracted at a cost of $300, but the couple does not have that much money. Though he has already borrowed against his life insurance policy, he goes to the life insurance company to attempt to take a loan out against Rose's policy. He is immediately mistaken by the clerical workers in the store as the man who had twice held up the insurance office. They inform the police, and he is taken to the 110th Precinct by detectives. Without being told why, Manny is instructed to walk in and out of a liquor store and delicatessen, both scenes of a robbery earlier that year. He is then asked by police to give a handwriting sample, writing the words from the stick-up note at the insurance company. Manny misspells the word "drawer" as "draw"—the same spelling mistake the robber made in the note. After being picked out of a police lineup by the women from the insurance company, he is then arrested and charged with robbery, and his family finds out that he will be in court on the following morning.
Attorney Frank O'Connor (Anthony Quayle) sets out to prove that Manny cannot possibly be the right man: at the time of the first hold-up he was on vacation with his family, and at the time of the second his jaw was so swollen that witnesses would certainly have noticed. Manny and Rose look for three people who saw Manny at the vacation hotel, but two have died and the third cannot be found. All this devastates Rose, whose resulting depression forces her to be hospitalized.
During Manny's trial a juror, bored with the minutiae of one witness's testimony, makes a remark which prompts the judge to declare a mistrial. While Manny is awaiting a second trial, he is exonerated after the true robber is arrested holding up a grocery store. Manny visits Rose at the hospital to share the good news, but, as the film ends, she remains clinically depressed; a textual epilogue explains that she recovered two years later.
Cast notesActors appearing in the film, but not listed in the credits, include Harry Dean Stanton, Werner Klemperer, Tuesday Weld, Patricia Morrow, Bonnie Franklin, and Barney Martin. Weld and Franklin made their film debuts as two giggly girls answering the door when the Balestreros are seeking witnesses to prove his innocence.
A Hitchcock cameo is typical of most of his films. In The Wrong Man, he appears only in silhouette in a darkened studio, just before the credits at the beginning of the film, announcing that the story is true. Originally, he intended to be seen as a customer walking into the Stork Club, but he edited himself out of the final print.
Many scenes were filmed in Jackson Heights, the neighborhood where Manny lived when he was accused. Most of the prison scenes were filmed among the convicts in a New York City prison in Queens. The courthouse was located at the corner of Catalpa Avenue and 64th Street in Ridgewood.
Bernard Herrmann composed the soundtrack, as he had for all of Hitchcock's films from The Trouble with Harry (1955) through Marnie (1964). It is one of the most subdued scores Herrmann ever wrote, and one of the few he composed with some jazz elements, here primarily to represent Fonda's appearance as a musician in the nightclub scenes.
This was Hitchcock's final film for Warner Bros. It completed a contract commitment that had begun with two films produced for Transatlantic Pictures and released by Warner Brothers: Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949), his first two films in Technicolor. After The Wrong Man, Hitchcock returned to Paramount Pictures.
The Rotten Tomatoes approval rating was 91% in March 2017.