Wednesday, February 09, 2005

DVD: The Wrong Man (1957)

The opening shot of this film, based on a true story, indicates that you’re not in for the typical Hitchcock experience. Hitch foregoes his usual cameo and instead appears in shadow, introducing a movie he describes as stranger than any fiction.

It’s one of the few Hitchcock films I hadn’t seen. I was prepared for the semi-documentary style, but not for the fact that the events unfold along the path of the 7 train that runs through my old neighborhood in New York.

Henry Fonda plays a musician at Manhattan’s Stork Club who is arrested for a series of robberies that he didn’t commit. Hitchcock employs a powerful subjective camera technique that puts the viewer in Fonda’s place as he takes in every feature of the cramped jail cell he suddenly finds himself in, or glances around a courtroom at people who seem indifferent to his fate. The passivity of Fonda’s character – he’s a decent man from a tight-knit Italian family who trusts the system, even when mistakes are obviously being made – only adds to the intensity.

The film didn’t play out in the manner I expected, particularly in the way it focused on the psychological toll Fonda’s ordeal takes on his wife (Vera Miles). The closing scenes between the two are so raw that the happy ending title card seems a grievous misstep, as if Hitch himself were unsettled by the material.

In stripping away his usual artifice, the director simply underscores his masterful storytelling skills. Hitchcock’s films are noted for their Catholic symbolism and their expression of his fear of the police. It’s odd that both aspects receive their fullest exploration in a story torn from the headlines of the day.

Miscellaneous: Quote of the Day

The New York Times’ Charles McGrath attends a screening of the new documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT and comments on the “raisiny ... shrunken and overly tanned” appearance of many of the original movie’s principals. This includes “Count Sepy Dobronyi, in whose wine cellar some of the action was filmed.”