Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Wrong Man (1956)

WHO: Alfred Hitchcock directed this, and also appeared on screen to introduce it in lieu of his usual cameo appearance. That's him in the image above.

WHAT: Although Hitchcock famously said he preferred to make "slice of cake" films rather than "slice of life" films, in fact a number of his features, including some of his aesthetic milestones (The Lodger, Foreign Correspondent and Rope) were rooted in true stories. But none of those took as many pains to present themselves as true to their real-life inspirations as The Wrong Man does, most explicitly in Hitchcock's introductory sequence, where he says:
"This is a true story, every word of it, and yet it contains elements that are stranger than all of the fiction that has gone into many of the thrillers I've made before."
Clearly by this point in his career the director had seen examples of Italian neorealist film, and was interested in trying his hand at something new, as The Wrong Man takes on a far bleaker tone than any of his previous films, while retaining many of Hitchcock's thematic considerations and stylistic flourishes. I wonder if, had the prologue been removed and his name left off the credits, this film would be considered a noir masterpiece on its own terms rather than an oddity amidst Hitchcock's more enduring and entertaining films.

WHERE/WHEN: At the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto tonight through Sunday at 5:35 and 9:40 each evening. Also screens at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley on April 5th.

WHY: Somehow Vertigo and The Wrong Man feel connected to each other; they're clearly two of Hitchcock's greatest achievements, one coming right after the other to launch the hottest artistic streak in his filmography. If Vertigo can be read as a wrestling with the futility of recreation through filmmaking (the more Scottie tries to remold Judy into Madeline, the less of her essence he has in his grasp) then might it be spurred by Hitchcock's frustrations while making The Wrong Man, his most complete attempt at lifelike verisimilitude in his career? Regardless, it seems instructive for anyone who took my advice and saw Vertigo yesterday, or who plans to tonight or next week, to fit in a big screen viewing of The Wrong Man sometime in the next few days as well.

HOW: The Stanford screens this on a 35mm Hitchcock double-bill with the other film he debuted in 1956, the Hollywood remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. The PFA will also use a 35mm print.

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