The Wrong Man is a 1956 film by Alfred Hitchcock which stars Henry Fonda and Vera Miles. The film is based on a true story of an innocent man charged for a crime he did not commit. The story was based on the book The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero by Maxwell Anderson and the article "A Case of Identity" (Life magazine, June 29, 1953) by Herbert Brean. It was one of the few Hitchcock films based on a true story, and unusually for Hitchcock, the facts of the story were not changed much. The Wrong Man has had a significant influence on many directors. The Wrong Man provoked the longest piece of criticism written by Jean-Luc Godard and was an influence on Taxi Driver. The film examines the experience of Manny Balestrero (Fonda) who works as a musician in the Stork Club, a nightclub in New York City. Manny and Rose (Miles), his wife, have very little money. When Rose needs some dental work, Manny attempts to borrow on her insurance policy at the insurance office. Unfortunately, he bears a resemblance to an armed robber who had held up the office twice before, so the police are called.
Hitchcock famously hated the police — thanks to an experience as a youth in which his father had him locked up at the local jail — and more than any other film The Wrong Man exudes that sentiment.
Based on the 1953 case of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero, The Wrong Man is a true story (the only one in Hitch’s body of work) of justice gone terribly wrong. Balestrero (Henry Fonda, sheepish as ever) is abruptly arrested for a series of holdups he didn’t commit, yet witness after witness, circumstance, and even handwriting samples point to him as the culprit. Eventually the true criminal comes to light, but not before Balestrero’s wife (Vera Miles) has gone insane due to the trauma.
Sounds like heavy stuff, but Hitchcock treats the film with such a ham fist that it comes off as nearly laughable, a clear precursor of the kind of docudramas they made in the 1970s and which have become the staple of the True Stories network. The Wrong Man isn’t that bad — it’s got two great actors in it, after all — but it’s barely a memorable experience. In Hitchcock’s litany, it ranks as one of the most forgettable works from his mature era.