List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 783/1007Title: The Wrong Man
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Until very recently, I had never heard of The Wrong Man let alone that this was one of the last remaining Hitchcock films left on the list. It’s not even in my Hitchcock Blu Ray box set, which has pretty much all of the big films and some of the minor ones. It’s pretty bizarre really, but I do love it when this list throws up a pleasant surprise like this one.
Like many films from decades ago, The Wrong Man was poorly received at the time only to receive a later re-evaluation and be seen as one of his lesser known masterpieces. It wasn’t all bad reviews at the time though. With this being one of the few times that Hitchcock attempted something close to realism and actually depicted a real event faithfully (well, as faithful as Hitchcock would allow) it makes sense that upcoming directors like Godard, Scorsese and Rohmer would have seen something in it that the mainstream may not have.
Viewed nowadays, The Wrong Man is a tense true story of a man who was falsely identified as the perpetrator of multiple robberies and assaults. We watch as the cards are stacked against him, such as the natural deaths of key witnesses and his spelling mistakes, and he and his family are brought on the brink of destruction. Being a true story, we know that the ending has to feature some sort of exoneration, but that doesn’t make the ride any less stressful or the fact that (despite what the final card says) his wife never recovered from the mental breakdown she suffered.
Films like this are why I love black and white films from this era. A story like this that is so devoid of life’s colour because of the constant Damoclean dread are so much better told when everything on the screen is similarly devoid of colour. It makes the shadows in the jail cell just that much more ominous and helps with the sterility of the scenes in the mental health institution where the wife ends up.
Being a true story the finale feels a little bit rushed but, as they say in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, life doesn’t make narrative sense. It does come as an extremely welcome relief and a lesser director would have milked the ending for as much as it was worth – but there is no melodrama to be made here. There’s no tearful reunion or dramatic confrontation, just the sheepish glance of an ashamed witness and the slight rankle at the true criminal.
Once the 1001 is over, I really want to start mopping up the major Hitchcock films that the list didn’t cover. For the most part I enjoy then, some I rank amongst my top films ever and every single one at least has something of interest. Just Blackmail and Strangers on a Train left. I guess that I’m going to have to space these out and keep doing my unintentional ‘one Hitchcock a year’ policy.