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The Wrong Man

(1956 b 105')

En: 6 Ed: 7

Based on a true story and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, a musician is mistakenly identified as a robber by several people and is arrested and put on trial. His wife has difficulty adjusting to the stressful situation.

         At the Stork Club on January 14, 1953 Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is playing with a small orchestra. When they finish, he walks to the subway, sits down, and reads a newspaper. He gets out and stops at a cafeteria for coffee and toast. He marks a racing form. Manny walks home and enters his apartment. He looks in on his two sleeping sons. His wife Rose (Vera Miles) wakes up and says fixing her wisdom teeth will cost $300. He kisses her and does not complain about her teeth. She says they borrow money and pay out on the installment plan. He tells her how he pretends to bet on horses and figures how much he would have won or lost. He says they are lucky because they are in love and have two fine boys. He has a job he likes, and his luckiest thing was finding her. They kiss, and she suggests he get some sleep.

         In the morning Manny shows Rose his insurance policy that they may be able to use to get money. Robert and Gregory are arguing about the piano. Manny tries to resolve their conflict and teaches them about music. He promises them music lessons in the evening. The phone rings, and Manny talks with his mother, who asks him to visit.

         Manny goes to the insurance office. He shows his insurance policy to a woman behind bars. She goes to check something, and tells another woman she thinks he is the man who has been there before. They confer with a third woman and ask her if he was the one who held her up. They persuade her to look at him, and she says he is the man. The teller goes back and tells him how much he can borrow. She shows him a figure of how much his wife has paid. She says his wife would have to come into the office. He leaves. They tell the boss, and he calls the home office.

         Manny says goodbye to his Mama Balestrero (Esther Minciotti). At home the phone rings, but Robert says a man would not say who he was. In a car outside two men watch Manny walk up to his door, and they call him Chris Balestrero. They take him to the 110th precinct and do not let him tell his wife. They take him in their car. The car stops, and they escort him into the police station and the detectives office. They sit down, and the detective Lt. Bowers (Harold J. Stone) tells him he fits the description of the man who committed a hold-up. He says that is crazy. Bowers says it could be a mistake. Manny says he is completely innocent. Bowers says they have to clear him before they can release him. Manny says he has never been late without calling. They go in the car and ask him about playing at the Stork Club. Manny says he does not drink. Bowers tells him to walk into a liquor store and then come back. He opens the door and walks past the man behind the counter, turns, and walks out. The men tell him to get in the car, and they drive off. Bowers asks Manny if his wife goes to the Stork Club. Manny says they have children, and it is too expensive. Bowers tells him to walk into another liquor store, and he does so. The man asks if he is from the 110th precinct. They ask him to walk back and forth again. They go to another.

         Rose calls Mama and says he still has not come home. Mama Balestrero tells her not to worry.

         At the station Bowers asks him why he went into the insurance office and if he had been there before. He says his wife needs money for the dentist. They ask if he bets on horses, and he says he has three or four times. They ask him if he borrowed money and how much he owes. He says they have bills for about $45. He asks if he has a right to know what he is being accused of. Bowers tells him that he has been identified for several robberies. He says he never did anything. Bowers asks him to print out a note. Bowers tells him an innocent man has nothing to fear. He reads the note, and Manny writes on the paper. Bowers says there is a rough similarity. Bowers has him print the robbery note again. Bowers notices something and says it looks bad. Bowers asks Manny to read the second note he wrote, and it has the same mistake as the original note. They take Manny to a line-up for two women from the insurance company. They both identify Manny. Detective Matthews (Charles Cooper) says it is a positive identification. They show the notes to their boss, and he tells Manny that he did the holdup. He orders him locked up. Matthews takes Manny’s finger-prints. They take him to the front desk, and Matthews tells the lieutenant they are booking him for robbery. Manny answers his questions. He is charged with stealing $71. Matthews empties his pockets, and he is given a receipt. Manny says he never called his wife, and Matthews says that was taken care of. They ask for his tie, and he is put in a jail cell. He sits on a hard bench.

         At Mama’s Gene Conforti (Nehemiah Persoff) is talking on the phone to an officer. He writes something down and says why Manny was locked up. Rose asks if she can see him. Gene says he will appear in felony court in the morning.

         Manny is let out of his cell and walks with others. Matthews takes him to a police wagon, and they drive to a large building. Inside Manny watches a man being questioned. Manny is told to stand in front of a microphone. They say he is being questioned by the district attorney’s office, and he is told to step aside.

         The police wagon stops, and Matthews escorts Manny into a small courtroom where he stands before a judge. A lawyer tells the judge he is representing him, and he asks for lower bail because he has never been arrested before. Matthews tells Manny that his bail is $7,500. In a hall a policeman handcuffs Manny to another prisoner. They go back in the wagon. A policeman calls Balestrero. Manny takes off his coat and carries his bedding upstairs to his cell. His name is called, and he is told he got bail.

         Outside Manny embraces Rose, and he asks who raised the bail. Rose says it was Gene and Olga (Lola D’Annunzio). He thanks them.

         Manny and Rose go home, and he remembers the police car parked there. Inside his sons and Mama welcome him. Manny says he has to lie down for a while. Bob comes in to his room, and Manny says he was arrested for something he didn’t do. Bob says he is the best dad. Manny says he never knew what his boys meant to him until now. Rose talks to Mama about the lawyer and O’Connor. Rose looks in the phone book and calls O’Connor. A secretary says he left the office. She looks up his home number, calls, and talks about her husband.

         Manny and Rose go into the law office and meet Frank O’Connor (Anthony Quayle). He says he talked to people at the Stork Club, and they believe he is innocent. He asks for Manny’s full story. He calls in Mrs. Daily to take down Manny’s statement. After hearing Manny’s story he says he will take the case, but he says he has little experience in criminal cases. Manny says there is the money problem, but O’Connor tells him not to think about that. O’Connor asks them to remember what he was doing on two dates. Rose says they were on vacation at a hotel on one of them. They leave.

         At the resort on a snowy day a couple tries to remember them. They remember the rain, and Manny says it rained on only one day when they were there. He walks outside to another building and says they played cards that day. He does not remember their names; but he describes them, and the couple remembers. The woman finds their names in their register.

         Manny and Rose return to the city and call on Mr. Lamarka. Two children tell them that they moved. They drive to another place and ask for Mr. Molanelli. A woman tells them that he is dead. Rose laughs and cries.

         At home Manny tells Rose they will find the third man, the boxer. Rose feels bad she made him go to the insurance company, but he says it was an accident. She says she has not been a good wife. He says she has been the best and is talking nonsense.

         Manny tells O’Connor in his office what happened. He says the couple may help him. O’Connor asks them about December 18. Manny says he had a toothache and stayed home except while working. He says it was swollen, and he saw a dentist. O’Connor says Rose can testify too, but she seems distant. O’Connor tells her they will win the case. O’Connor advises Manny to have her see a doctor.

         Manny comes home from work and sees Rose sitting by the bed in a chair. She says she can’t sleep. He says this happened before, and she is not eating either. He asks if she should see a doctor. She says they cannot pay for things. How could she go to a doctor? Manny says he will ask his mother to come over. He says she does not seem to care what happens to him. She says it does not matter how much one cares. She says they will find him guilty. She says they should all stay home and lock the doors. He asks if they should have the boys go to his mother’s. She says he thinks she is crazy. She wonders if he is guilty. She backs away to keep him from touching her. She takes a hair brush and hits him on the head. Then she puts her face against his and sits down. She says there is something wrong with her.

         A doctor questions Rose, who says they wanted to punish her. She says she is guilty, and they are after her. She says everything is useless. He leaves the room, and Manny asks him if it is her mind. The doctor says she sees lurking dangers everywhere. He says she is buried under a landslide of fear and guilt. He suggests she be in an institution where she can get well. Manny does not want to let her go. The doctor says she is in a nightmare. Manny wants her to have the best care.

         Manny takes two suitcases out of the car and leads Rose into a building. A doctor greets them and asks Manny to say goodbye to her there. They lead Rose up the stairs, and Manny leaves.

         In court Manny is told to stand, and the charges are read. Manny is listening and holds his rosary. The prosecutor Tomasini (John Heldabrand) is speaking to the jury about what they will learn. He says Manny had to pay off bookies in New York. He says the witnesses will identify him as the robber. O’Connor gets up and tells the jury that an indictment is only an accusation. He says they will bring witness to prove that Manny did not commit any one of the crimes. He says they will realize this is a case of mistaken identity.

         In the trial Mrs. James from the insurance office testifies and identifies Manny as the man who robbed their office. Another woman testifies that she saw Mrs. James give him the money. O’Connor asks her about the line-up, and a juror complains about this questioning. O’Connor confers with the judge and then asks for a mistrial. He tells Manny they will have to go through everything again. Manny asks if they can just go ahead, but O’Connor says no.

         At home Manny talks with Mama about having to go through the meat-grinder again. She says it is not his fault he has had bad breaks. She asks if he has prayed, and he says yes. She tells him to pray for strength. He says he needs some luck. She begs him to pray, and he says he has to go to work. He looks at the picture of Jesus.

         A man who looks like him walks down the street and goes into a store and asks for a pound of ham. He demands the money, and the woman picks up a butcher knife. A man comes from behind and grabs him. She calls the police and says they can hold him.

         Police take the robber Daniel (Richard Robbins) into the station. Matthews thinks about it and goes back into the station.

         At the Stork Club a man tells Manny that he is wanted at the 110th precinct. There O’Connor greets Manny and says it won’t be long now. They hear a woman identify the robber in a line-up. Two women from the insurance office walk down the hall and are ashamed to see Manny. Daniel is brought by him, and Manny asks him if he realizes what he did to his wife.

         Manny goes to the facility and goes into Rose’s room. He tells her it is all over because they found the man who committed the holdups. The nurse asks him to tell her the good news again. Manny explains to her they can start their lives over again. She says it is fine for him. He asks if it helps her, and she says no. He asks if he has done anything, and she says no. She says nothing can help her. He asks her if she wants to come with him. She says it does not matter where she is. He says the boys pray every night she will come home. She tells him he can go now. The nurse asks him to come back, and she says it takes time.

         Two years later Rose left the sanitarium cured and lived with her husband and boys in Florida.

         This realistic drama depicts the unfortunate story of an innocent man and his wife suffering for the crimes of another man because witnesses falsely identify him. Such false identifications are probably the cause of more innocent people being convicted than from any other cause. Although the wife suffered indirectly, she was not as strong as he was psychologically.

Copyright © 2010 by Sanderson Beck

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