The Wrong Man – Alfred Hitchcock
Although it is important to realize that each shot in a Hitchcock film is carefully prepared so that it will relate both visually and psychologically to the overall conception in Hitchcock’s mind, it is also important to note that Hitchcock’s interpreters play an essential part in this conception. It is possible that the very fact of having to follow direction so closely in terms of movement and gesture has a liberating effect on actors and actresses in a Hitchcock film. Whatever the reason, no director elicits better performances than Hitchcock, and Henry Fonda and Vera Miles are among the finest examples of this. Miles’s restrained dialogue and her subtle changes of expression which cul¬minate in the empty gaze she finally assumes for the remainder of the film produce one of the most credible and brilliantly realized nervous breakdown sequences in cinema. Similarly, Fonda expresses his subdued character re¬markably, mostly through the ways in which Manny looks at the world around him.
The calmness of the film, a result of Hitchcock’s understanding of the characters and his attitute toward the story, makes it more dramatic than if it were overwrought, and every aspect of the film contributes to this sense of calmness. The music of Bernard Herrmann, which appropriately emphasizes the bass, is discreetly somber, and the complex soundtrack is also subtle and restrained. The screenplay is admirably straightforward, and the relatively prosaic quality of the dialogue not only encourages identification with the characters, but also sets off the more poetic quality of Hitchcock’s cinematic realization.
Although it is relentlessly bleak, The Wrong Man betrays no cynicism and makes no recourse to a facile pessimism. This apparent destruction of a man by a merciless stroke of fate, which becomes the actual destruction of his more fragile wife, describes a cruel and uncaring universe with great spiritual resonance. Perhaps this is because the characters are whole human beings, not choosing to suffer in the manner of crippled characters found in more neurotic films, but suffering nonetheless against their will, their limitations used against them by the caprices of circumstance. The gentle Manny journeys through hell with a childlike awe, but this same innocence prevents him from ever knowing of the inner hell of his wife, burning quietly until it blazes out of control to provide this masterpiece of the desolation of human existence with its final tragic irony.
There is something strangely consoling in Hitchcock’s presentation. His subjective techniques are used to encourage identification with Manny, but we are not encouraged to the same extent of identification with Rose, at least not by the camera. With Manny, we find at last that we are overwhelmed with sadness for her assumption of his nonexistent guilt. Hitchcock’s choices when determining the visual and psychological nature of each shot result in the possibility of feeling compassion, a consoling emotion. He makes The Wrong Man appear to be a detached and restrained film, even while reaching profound fears within the consciousness of the spectator, until the final meeting in the mental hospital between the heartbroken. Manny and the insane Rose, which brings forth the feeling of catharsis which he has held in suspense.