Thursday, November 11, 2010

THE WRONG MAN. One of the advantages of this sublet is that it comes with cable, and gives me the opportunity to catch up on some old movies. The Wrong Man was on TCM last weekend.

I love it, but this is probably the least enjoyable of Hitchcock's films. The photography and editing rhythm have a kitchen-sink dullness that seems influenced by television. (Hitchcock did not disdain trends -- he even made a 3-D movie -- and may have felt, in the wake of the success of Marty, that it would be okay to go more naturalistic than usual.) Though the tightening of the screws on the hero, a musician wrongly arrested and nearly convicted of robbery ("Oh, this looks bad for you, Manny"), quickens the pulse, it's a less exhilarating than depressing experience. We're even denied the pleasure of watching for Hitchcock's traditional cameo, as he appears in a sententious prologue to tell us that the story is real.

Hitchcock seriously restrained himself with this one. Usually there's something like fun going on in his movies -- sweeping camera movements, incongruous humor, an unexpected change in rhythm or point of view. In The Wrong Man, there is that amazing moment when Manny is put in a cell and the camera swims, and the quiet hysteria of the group of women when he's "identified," but other than that, there are none of Hitchcock's trademark bravura touches -- it's all small things that show how screwed Manny is, like his apparently uninterested attorney (great performance by Anthony Quayle) doodling at the defense table, and especially the way people look at and talk to Manny. Henry Fonda collaborates in this -- quiet, earnest, remarkably well-behaved. Even when his wife goes mad, she's quiet.

It isn't a question of the material or the setting -- even the physically-restricted Lifeboat has scenes, like Gus' amputation, that are practically operatic in their handling. The effect of Hitchcock's restraint is to shift the focus from the strangeness of the usual paranoid scenario and onto its believability. Now the caprice of fate is not a magical intrusion on reality, but reality itself: bleak, unrelenting, and pitilessly unjust. Suddenly the little English boy who was famously influenced by a few minutes in jail is giving us the grown-up version of his nightmare.

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