Cinema Odeon > 11:00


Alfred Hitchcock


Sunday 30/08/2020


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

In Jean-Luc Godard’s Livre d’image (2018), a Henry Fonda clip – young Mr. Lincoln’s delight in discovering a book of law – is soon followed by a shot of the older Fonda behind bars. Imprisoned by an unjust law for a crime he did not commit, he is now ‘the wrong man’: Manny Balestrero, mild-mannered husband and father, faithful Christian, bass player at the Stork Club, and, all of a sudden, the subject of a real-life nightmare. Yes, Manny’s experience, including the strange kinds of shame and guilt felt by the wrongly accused, is truly Kafkaesque. But its sober, matter-of-fact presentation on screen is often closer to a Bressonian approach than to any of the usual faux-Kafka movie mannerisms. In view of its climax – Manny’s prayer, followed by a superimposition of the innocent and the guilty man’s faces – we may also heed Godard’s earlier claim about the film in his Histoire(s) du cinéma (1998): “Together with Dreyer, Hitchcock is the only one who knows how to film a miracle”. It takes a coincidence, a miracle, to complete this inverted police procedural and identify the actual villain, who is none other than the legal system itself. Similarly, the actual victim isn’t Manny, but his wife Rose who – in an impressive performance by Vera Miles – ends up catatonic. If guilt and innocence become arbitrary, madness results. Visiting her at the mental asylum after his release, Manny is shocked by her unchanged state: “I guess I was hoping for a miracle”. The Wrong Man seems like a perfect summation of both Fonda’s career-spanning tightrope walk between righteousness and lawlessness and Hitchcock’s metaphysics of guilt and fear of the police. Still, it has often been viewed as an outlier, not least by Hitchcock himself who acknowledges the atypical character of his film, telling us that “this is a true story, every word of it”, referring to his source, a 1953 case of mistaken identity. For Godard, in his 1957 review, it all begins with “the beauty of Henry Fonda’s face” whose “only criterion is the exact truth. We are watching the most fantastic of adventures because we are watching the most perfect, the most exemplary, of documentaries”.

Alexander Howarth

Cast and Credits

Sog.: Maxwell Anderson. Scen.: Angus MacPhail, Maxwell Anderson. F.: Robert Burks. M.: George Tomasini. Scgf.: Paul Sylbert. Mus.: Bernard Herrmann. Int.: Henry Fonda (Christopher Emanuel ‘Manny’ Balestrero), Vera Miles (Rose Balestrero), Anthony Quayle (Frank D. O’Connor), Harold J. Stone (tenente Bowers), Charles Cooper (detective Matthews), John Heldabrand (Tomasini), Esther Minciotti (la madre di Manny), Doreen Lang (Ann James). Prod.: Alfred Hitchcock per Warner Bros. Pictures. 35mm. D.: 105’. Bn.