At some point I want to discuss Inherit the Wind, but then I watch a movie like The Wrong Man, and Spencer Tracy's going to have to wait another day.
The Wrong Man is Hitchcock's first movie based on a true event. A musician (Henry Fonda) in the Stork Club band is accused of committing several robberies on the basis of some highly dubious police work. How dubious? Let's see:
- The teller at the insurance holding company identified him to her coworkers (Balestrero was there to see if he could borrow against his wife's life insurance policy to pay for her to have some dental work) even though she was too terrified to even take a proper look.
- The police has Manny write out what the robber had on a note he gave to the teller. Then they made him do it again. On that second attempt he wrote "drawer" as "draw", just as the robber did. The police treat this as significant.
- The cops take Manny to the places that were robbed, and tell him to walk into each one, then turn and leave, to see if the employees recognize him. Except the cops told the employees beforehand they were sending him in there, so they've prejudiced the witnesses before they've even begun.
- When they bring the two tellers in to do the lineup, they bring them in together, rather than separately. The teller that was robbed never got a good look at Manny in the building, but her coworker did, and their combined stupidity serves to reinforce itself.
It seems like a farce, that a man could be locked up and put on trial on such shoddy evidence. Really, Manny didn't even need a good attorney, he simply needed Fonda's character from 12 Angry Men on the jury. That guy would have had a field day with this incompetent of an investigation.
What's impressive is how Manny persists in the face of this. He keeps moving forward, going to work, finding some way to make ends meet (if money was tight before!), even as his wife Rose is crushed under the weight of their troubles, which she blames herself for. It reminds me of the Simpsons' episode where the Flanders' house is destroyed by a storm and Ned snaps under the seemingly unrelenting string of misfortune. I guess Maude, who didn't lose hope, would be Manny, and Ned would be Rose.
There's a bit about faith, as Manny's mother exhorts him near the end to pray, and lo and behold, something good happens. I don't know that it was really established prior to that. I didn't think of Manny' personality as being specifically influenced by religion, so much as he's simply a good guy, who believes in following the rules, and trying to be a good father and husband.
The story does end happily, at least for Manny's family. I wonder about the man arrested actually robbing a store. He said he'd never done it before, but he's going to get all those robberies that were originally pinned on Manny stuck to him. He did attempt at least one robbery, but I imagine the penalty for that is less than for a multiple offender. Manny seems pretty sure the guy committed all those other robberies, but what does he know? Yeah, the tellers identified this new guy as the one who robbed him, but they'd already identified someone else as the guilty party earlier. As witnesses go, they're worthless.