[This Halloween season, we're paying tribute to classic horror cinema by celebrating films released before 1970! Check back on Daily Dead this month for more retrospectives on classic horror films, and visit our online hub to catch up on all of our Halloween 2019 special features!]
The most wonderful time of the year is quickly approaching, and I'm sure we are all looking for something spooky to watch either by ourselves or with family and friends. From Creepshow (1982) to Urban Legend (1998), there are so many interesting movies that will send a tingle down your spine this Halloween season. But, when you really think about it, how many of the films up for consideration in our movie marathons are silent films or were shot in black and white? It's easy for a lot of really great films to get lost in the shuffle and that's why here at Daily Dead, we've decided to dedicate our Halloween picks this year to films released before 1970. My pick to help us get into the Halloween spirit is from legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, and it's called The Wrong Man (1956).
For our readers who may not be familiar with Alfred Hitchcock or his TV/filmography, here is a brief rundown. Hitchcock was born on August 13th, 1899, in Leytonstone, Essex, England. He would begin his feature directorial career with the silent film The Pleasure Garden (1925), and over the next 50 years would go on to make more than 50 films. Because his career stretched across six decades, he is one of the notable directors to make silent films, black and white movies, films in color, and even created his own television show. Through the camera lens, Hitchcock tapped into a wide range of fears in his films, and one of his most thought-provoking efforts is 1956's The Wrong Man.
Based on a true story, The Wrong Man (1956) stars the late Henry Fonda and Vera Miles and tells the story of Manny Balestrero, a husband and father of two boys who is mistakenly identified by three insurance agents as a known robber on the loose. The events recounted in this film are based on Maxwell Anderson’s novel The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero, and it stays relatively faithful to the source material, which isn't surprising when you think about it. Hitchcock's penchant for detail seems like the perfect marriage for a film with this kind of subject matter. In fact, Hitchcock appears as a silhouette at the beginning of the film to tell the audience that this is a true story and even describes what happened to Christopher, or Manny for short, "bizarre."
The Wrong Man (1956) is a wonderful choice this Halloween because it exposes our very valid fear of being accused of a crime we didn't commit. If you are worried that this all sounds too simple or straightforward, you are in good hands, as there are a few layers to peel back on this story, and you can also take everything that happens at face value and get just as much enjoyment from the film—one of the many beautiful aspects of Alfred's work.
Back to the topic at hand, it's not hard to imagine why many people don't want to be associated with a life of crime. As upstanding citizens, we fear capital punishment, the stigma we would receive from society, the diminishing of quality in our lives, and the list continues. These fears are reflected in The Wrong Man when the police car drives off towards the precinct and suspenseful music plays as all kinds of thoughts begin to race through Manny's mind. They also ask him to write down a series of words on a piece of paper without telling him what he is writing. When it is revealed that Manny's handwriting matches that of the robber's stick-up note, he is officially arrested. It is the tensest ten minutes or so I've seen in a film, and I have seen this movie a handful of times. There is a reason why Alfred Hitchcock is called the Master of Suspense.
On the flip side, Hitchcock also unpacks the fear we experience when confronted with people who commit crimes. The tight shots on the three agents discussing whether or not Manny is the robber add a feeling of claustrophobia to an already intense scene. Imagine being terrified of someone while at the same time trying to keep your wits about you as you try to decide the right thing to do.
Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1956) is a tense 1 hour and 27 minutes in which the audience has to watch an innocent man experience the nightmare to end all nightmares: the unjustified murder of his own innocence. What happened to Christopher can and has happened to countless people around the world. To avoid spoilers, I will not tell you how it ends, but there is one question that somewhat nags at me about this true story... would Manny have been mistaken for the robber regardless if he had gone to that insurance office for the loan? He apparently looked like the robber. Would he have been picked up off the street or at the club where he worked? It seems as though there would have been no safe haven for Manny, no sanctuary from a nightmare of being accused of a crime he didn’t commit.
This film would be in good company if it were made today, as it seems like many horror movies in recent memory are more focused on "realistic" situations like this one, where everyday fears are showcased not through a creature surrogate, but in depictions of home invasions, kidnappings, robberies, cult attacks, serial killers, outbreaks, government-sanctioned crimes like that of The Purge franchise, etc. I believe this would make a great double feature with another Hitchcock film called The Man Who Knew Too Much―also released in 1956. Much like The Wrong Man, it explores a family man who finds himself in a horrifying situation and must find a way out of it. The Wrong Man unpacks very plausible fears that are just as relevant today as they were upon the film’s release more than 60 years ago, and it should add some all-too-real scares to your Halloween season viewing.
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