The Wrong Man – Alfred Hitchcock
The exteriors and certain interiors of the film were shot on location in New York, and Robert Burks resourcefully varies the black and white tonality of the film without ever departing from the prevailing visual mood, delicately -poised between realism and expressionism. Although Hitchcock and Burks had become enthusiasts of the expressive use of color long before this black and white film was made, they are no less inspired here in the use of the drab settings and downbeat images which dominate the story. Their imaginative re-creation of the cheerless environment into a visualization of an emotional nightmare is one of the finest aspects of the film. Hitchcock creates tension in the opening sequence as Manny leaves the nightclub simply by introducing the figures of two policemen who stroll along behind the musician for a few moments.
After Manny is arrested, the scene of his interrogation is handled with a restraint and matter-of-factness which generally characterizes the style of the film, but at a key moment, the suppleness of Hitchcock’s technique enhances the presentation of the scene. Manny has been attempting to remain calm and cooperative, but when he is finally overcome by feelings of helplessness and frustration, the camera withdraws to a high angle, making him appear even more vulnerable than before despite the fact that he has become vocally assertive. Similar touches enhance other scenes, such as the one in the jail cell, in which Manny is overcome by a feeling of claustrophobia and the camera begins to move in a little circle around him, the movement becoming increasingly rapid so that the still man eventually seems to whirl helplessly in the space of the frame. The severity of Hitchcock’s formal control results in the film’s most ostentatious and stirring moment, which occurs late in the film. In the scene there is a slow dissolve from the face of the praying Manny to the face of the actual holdup man, a dissolve in which the faces of the men merge as if Manny’s prayer is mysteriously being answered.
The filming of Rose’s breakdown is characterized by a thoughtfulness and visual tension which make this sequence perhaps the most outstanding in the film. Most of it is directed with visual restraint, as Rose, initially calm but becoming increasingly disturbed, expresses her feeling of helplessness over their situation. When he perceives that she is becoming hysterical, Manny moves to touch her and she picks up a hairbrush and hits him on the head with it. Hitchcock breaks up this brief action within the long sequence into a series of short shots—close-ups of Rose and Manny, the raising of the brush, the smashing of the brush into a mirror after Manny has been hit, and Manny’s face distorted by its reflection in the broken mirror. The sequence ends with Rose retreating into a trance and oppressively dominating the compostion as she stares blankly and virtually whispers that she is ill.
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