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The Wrong Man [1956)

Gut-wrenching.  No Cary Grant, nor crop duster:  this is the eponymous instance of Hitchcock’s grand trope.  Those hands.  Only a director who started in silent cinema could do this story justice.  Those lean fingers…slowly clenching into gentle, balled fists of soft-spoken anger.  This, dear friends, is the story of the NSA.  This is the story of the security state.  Ever speak an ill word about the government?  Then you might be one of Them.  They are the goblins which appear 24/7 on Fox News as if real.  They are only as real as the distortions in the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic (like Vera Miles in the latter part of this movie).  How slight a slip from being outspoken to being blacklisted (as they would once have said).  Now you’re on a list, true–but you don’t know which list.  When you pass through airport security you can only wonder.  That is the horror of being the wrong man; of judging a book by its circumstantial cover.  This is Alfred the auteur being locked up as a young boy.  It is the trauma of that parental “lesson” in its most visceral manifestation.  Never again did Hitchcock capture the despair which a wrongly-accused prisoner must feel.  Witnesses get it wrong.  Police procedures are not perfect even when at their best.  And as we are reminded in the film:  the onus is on the prosecution.

To persecute.  To indict.  To prosecute.

Where’s the body?  Where are the matching fingerprints?  This was long before DNA forensics, but do we not still get the wrong man sometimes?  Once is too many times.  The rule of law has been perverted and circumvented.  We trample over crime scenes.  We just want to get Someone/Anyone.  Makes it awfully easy to frame a person nowadays.  There are honest mistakes and dishonest mistakes.  Our politicians learn to lie from the cradle and they seemingly go to their graves with no remorse.  I’m afraid the misreading of Nietzsche has found a whole new generation of acolytes in the neoconservatives who conned the world now some 15 years ago.  The wrong man worked for us.  We called the tune he played on his bass fiddle in Afghanistan.  We even provided the instrument.

In this highly religious film Hitchcock draws upon his own general upbringing.  The theme is guilt.  Guilt in all the wrong places. Same for blame.

Poor Henry Fonda…he just looked the part.

I have no words to describe the solemn brilliance of this film. It is vanity to attempt such. The real terror is the state security apparatus. If one scoffs at legal end-arounds, one is (at times) Literally unpatriotic. Sometimes we have only hours; minutes to do the right thing. The officer turns back around and reenters the 110th Precinct police station. The germ of conscience has sprouted.

My metaphors may be all wrong. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the lives of our fellow human beings. Six million wrong men, women and children. The Nazis didn’t plan the final solution in caves. They were very advanced. And it was not but 70-80 years ago.

It takes great maturity to sit through this movie. Deep focus. The millionth remake of Godzilla will not impart this lesson. Let it be branded upon your brain. This is what we fight for. A civilization can be judged as civilized only according to its ideas of justice.


2 responses to “The Wrong Man [1956)

  1. I love your writing style with the skilled use of short sentences. I also like this line: “How slight a slip from being outspoken to being blacklisted.” I wrote a controversial essay on The Wrong Man called “The Law of Cause and Effect.” If you would like to read it, here is the link:

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