Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Wrong Man

Title: The Wrong Man
Year: 1956
Studio: Warner Brothers
Screenplay: Maxwell Anderson and Angus MacPhail
Source Material: Based on a true story
Running Time: 101 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 5th June, 8:30am
I cannot believe it is June already, time has flown by. It is hard to believe I have been doing this blog for over a year now. Although I have loved doing it, I will be pleased to be free of the commitment when it's over. just a couple of months to go.

Oddly, I had a bit of a lie in this morning. I didn't get up until 7! That is quite a lie in for me as I usually awake around 5 or 6. It seems I had about nine hours sleep. Heavens to Betsy.

I wasn't really in the mood for this film today as I have seen it a couple of times before and have always felt it was a little dry, however, I ploughed through and found myself enjoying it more than before.

Christopher Emanuel 'Manny' Balestrero - Henry Fonda
Rose Balestrero - Vera Miles
Frank O'Connor - Anthony Quayle
Lt Bowers - Harold Stone
Tomasini - John Heldabrand
Ann James - Doreen Lang
Olga Conforti - Lola D'Annunzio
Gregory Balestrero - Robert Esson
Judge Groat - Dayton Lummis
Detective Matthews - Charles Cooper
Betty Todd - Norma Connolly
Mama Balestrero - Esther Minciotti
Constance Willis - Lauinda Barrett
Gene Conforti - Nahamiah Persoff
Robert Balestrero - Kippy Campbell
Daniell - Richard Robbins
Miss Dennerly - Peggy Webber

The early morning hours of January the fourteenth, nineteen hundred and fifty-three, a day in the life of Christopher Emanuel Balestrero that he will never forget...

'Manny' works as a Bass Fiddle player at the Stork Club, a late-night venue for the well-to-do. He has a small two-bedroom home where he lives with his wife, Rose, and their two sons Bob and Greg.
In the early hours of January 14th, he leaves work and does his usual routine. Takes the underground train from Fifth avenue, reads the paper, checks the horse odds on the racing pages, gets some toast and coffee at his usual haunt and then returns home. He checks in on the sleeping children and then goes in to his own room to see Rose. This particular morning, she is still awake due to the pain of her wisdom teeth coming through. Apparently, the cost at the dentist will be $300 and Manny says he will try and borrow some money.

The next day he heads to the insurance office and asks about a loan on his wife's policy. The teller behind the counter is obviously a little disturbed by something. She goes to talk to her colleagues. She believes that Manny is the man who held up the office with a gun a few weeks ago. When he leaves, he visits his mother briefly before heading home. In the mean time, the police have been called and they are waiting for him when he gets home.

Without allowing him to speak to Rose or the kids, they whisk him off to the 110th precinct where he is interrogated - they take him for a drive and ask him to enter a couple of locations so that witnesses can recognise him. The majority seem to think he is the man who held up their stores. One girl is not entirely convinced.
Back at the precinct, they ask Manny to write a note that is dictated to him - it's the note the hold-up man had given to the teller at the insurance company...


The detectives get Manny to write it out twice and on one occasion, he misspells the final word, just like the hold-up man. 'Draw' instead of 'Drawer'.

Meanwhile, Rose is at home panicking about where Manny could be.

The detectives take Manny's fingerprints after witnesses from the insurance office identify him as the criminal. They take his belongings (but allow him to keep his Roasary beads) and lock him up for the night. Manny's brother-in-law, Gene, has been making enquiries trying to find out information as to Manny's whereabouts and soon learns of the arrest.

The next morning, after a brief court appearance, Manny is taken to Long Island City prison but he is not there for long as Gene and Olga manage to provide the $7,500 for bail.
Rose arranges to meet Frank O'Connor, a solicitor. He says he will represent them but says that they will have to find evidence of their location during the dates on which the crimes were committed. One such date was July 9th the previous year, so Manny and Rose head to the hotel at which they were staying that month. They recall playing a card game with some other guests, but when they seek out these other holiday makers at their respective homes, it is discovered that they have both since died.
Rose begins to lose her mind at the fragility of their case. She begins to blame herself for the mess. She believes if she had been better with their economics, Manny would never have needed to ask about borrowing money on her life insurance. She thinks they should lock themselves in at home and hide from the outside world.
At one point, it gets all too much for her and she lashes out at Manny with her hairbrush. It strikes his head and then smashes the mirror on the dressing table.

Manny sends her to a psychiatrist who diagnoses her with mental problems caused by severe guilt complex. He advises putting her in an institution until she gets better.

The trial begins and the prosecution, Mr Tomasini, tries to paint Manny as a gambler trying hard to pay off debts.
O'connor forces the issue of mistaken identity.
Frustratingly, one of the jurors causes a scene and they have to call it a mistrial which means they have to start all over again but with a new jury.
The stress is getting to Manny who has been clutching his Rosary beads day-in, day-out. He prays for some sort of assistance from God...
That night, the real culprit tries to hold-up another store. He is apprehended and taken to the 110th precinct. Here one of the detectives sees the previous error and brings in the life insurance witnesses once more - again, they are convinced that they have picked the right man, but this time it is the right man.

The charges against Manny are dropped and he can return home. He visits Rose in the sanitarium, but she is still lost and distant. He hopes she will return to him some day soon...

Two years later, Rose Balestrero walked out of the sanitarium - - completely cured.
Today she lives happily in Florida with Manny and the two boys.. and what happened seems like a nightmare to them - - but it did happen.

The End.

Great Lines
The film dialogue tends to steer clear of witty dialogue, for obvious reasons, but Manny's children do add a realistic touch of light relief toward the beginning of the film whilst discussing Mozart at the piano:

Bob: "It says here that Mozart wrote it when he was 5. So I should be able to play it. I'm 8."

Greg: "I'm 5, so I should be able to write it!"

Later on, there's one line which is delivered perfectly by Manny to the 'right' man:

Manny: "Do you realise what you've done to my wife?"

It's so real and true. A lesser writer may have had Manny simply ask 'why?' or say something similarly selfish, but true to Manny's character, he thinks of others first, in this case, his wife.

The night Manny spends in the cell at the 110th precinct is shot beautifully, causing a very claustrophobic atmosphere within the cell. Also, when he is transferred to Long Island City Prison, we are subjected to the terrifying journey prisoners make as they adapt to their future, being lead through the barred corridors. The camera following Manny into his cell through the small oblong opening takes us deep within the psychological nightmare that jail provides.

My favourite shot is when Manny is praying before a painting of Jesus in the hope that divine intervention will take place, then we see the real villain heading to his next victim's store. For a few seconds, their faces overlap on the screen and we see the similarities... but also their differences.

What I find most interesting about this story is how the real victim here is Rose. Although Manny is the innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit, it is Rose whose life is torn apart the most - her beliefs are torn down, exposing her mind to the ravages of guilt and paranoia.

The final screenshot depicts the family reunited and walking down a street in Florida. A caption that tells us that Rose recovered is actually lying to us. According to sources, Rose never fully recovered and that, with hindsight, gives one a shiver down the spine.

My Verdict
A sombre film lacking in Hitchcock's trademark black humour, but one can expect that coming from a true story. Henry Fonda does a great job as Manny, but it is Vera Miles who steals the show as Rose. 7/10

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