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.