The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man (1956)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles
Extras: Featurette, Trailer

An exception among the Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, his 1956 movie "The Wrong Man" for the first time actually used real events to tell a story, and like Hitchcock himself proclaims in the opening of the movie, these events seem stranger than anything fictional he had done before… or after for that matter. In their line-up of Hitchcock releases, Warner Home Video has now released "The Wrong Man" on DVD for the first time and I was only too eager to give the disc a check-up.

Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is a bass player at New York’s famous Stork Club. A loving husband and family man, he is always concerned about the well being of his loved ones. One night when he returns home he is picked up by police under the suspicion of having committed a series of hold-ups in the neighborhood. Of course, Manny did no such thing, and yet a series of people positively identify him as the perpetrator. Evidence is so overwhelming in fact that Manny is sent to prison but is released when his family posts his bail.

Immediately he and his wife set out to produce Manny’s alibis for the times of the hold-ups but wherever they turn, it seems hopeless to prove his innocence. The situation becomes so bleak in fact that Manny’s wife Rose (Vera Miles) is suffering from a mental breakdown and is driven to madness. Trying to deal with all the problems and issues, Manny now also has to let go of his wife and place her in a sanitarium, forced to face the ordeal of his upcoming trial on his own, with only his lawyer by his side.

"The Wrong Man" is probably the saddest of all Alfred Hitchcock films. It is so deeply emotional that you just can’t help but be affected by the hopelessness of Manny’s situation as well. Constantly I found myself wondering "What if that happened to me?" We don’t go through life making sure we have an accountable alibi for every second of our time and yet if you get in a situation the way Manny does entirely without his wrongdoing, we too would be hopelessly overwhelmed by our inability to produce convincing explanations. When his wife becomes distraught, the viewer just feels how the entire world is coming down on Manny and it illustrates, just how fragile our lives are in many ways.

"The Wrong Man" would not be the same without Henry Fonda. It is he who makes this film so uniquely touching and suspenseful. His withheld emotions, the look in his eyes as he faces the bleakness of his future, his desperate attempts to help his wife and bring her out of the darkness that surrounds her mind – no one else could have brought this to life the way Fonda does. Add to it Vera Miles, who is a highly underrated actress, as his wife, and you have a powerhouse of performers who make "The Wrong Man" one of Hitchcock’s most human films.

Warner Home Video is presenting the movie in a 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The images is very clean at all times, without blemishes or mars, and it is also very stable. It is a bit grainy at times as a result of the original print but I never found it to be distracting. Instead it adds to the vintage feel of the film and even to the almost surreal events happening at times. The black and white picture has great contrast, rendering blacks absolutely deep and solid while also giving the image bright highlights that never bleed. No edge-enhancement is evident and the compression is also without flaws.

Warner presents "The Wrong Man" in its original mono audio track. The audio has been cleaned up and is entirely free of pops or hiss, and makes for a surprisingly clear presentation. While the frequency response is of course limited due to the materials age, it never sounds overly harsh or unnatural. Dialogues are well integrated and are always understandable and Bernard Herrmann’s wonderful score once again comes through in all its stinging brilliance, adding immensely to the atmosphere of the film as a whole.

The DVD also contains a featurette called "Guilt Trip: Hitchcock and The Wrong Man." It is a great retrospective featurette in which crew members as well as other filmmakers reminisce about the movie. Especially Peter Bogdanovich is once again a keen observer of the movie’s production and Alfred Hitchcock’s intentions. They all managed to create a view how the film came together, how the cast and crew worked and how Hitch approached the subject matter.

The movie’s theatrical trailer is also included on the release.

"The Wrong Man" is once again a wonderfully crafted film by the master of suspense. Very different in its feel and clearly the most serious film Hitchcock has ever made, it nonetheless carries his signature all over and manages to keep audiences on the edge from the first to the last frame. Warner Home Video has prepared a fitting DVD release for this unforgettable and touching movie. For fans of classic Hitchcock thrillers, "The Wrong Man" is definitely another DVD highlight that can’t be missed.