The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man is a 1956 American docudrama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Henry Fonda and Vera Miles.[1][2] The film was drawn from the true story of an innocent man charged with a crime, as described in the book The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero by Maxwell Anderson[3][4] and in the magazine article "A Case of Identity" (Life magazine, June 29, 1953) by Herbert Brean.[5]

The Wrong Man
Theatrical film poster
Directed byAlfred Hitchcock
Produced byAlfred Hitchcock
Screenplay byMaxwell Anderson
Angus MacPhail
Based onThe True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero
by Maxwell Anderson
StarringHenry Fonda
Vera Miles
Music byBernard Herrmann
CinematographyRobert Burks
Edited byGeorge Tomasini
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • December 22, 1956 (1956-12-22) (US)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
BudgetUS$1.2 million
Box officeUS$2 million

It is one of the few Hitchcock films based on a true story and whose plot closely follows the real-life events.

The Wrong Man had a notable effect on two significant directors: it prompted Jean-Luc Godard's longest piece of written criticism in his years as a critic,[6][7] and it has been cited as an influence on Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver.[8]


Alfred Hitchcock appears on screen to tell the audience that the film's "every word is true".

Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda), a down-on-his-luck musician at New York City's Stork Club, needs $300 for dental work for his wife Rose (Vera Miles). When he visits the office of a life insurance company to borrow against Rose's policy, he is mistaken by the staff there for a man who had twice held them up. He is questioned by police, and without being told why, is instructed to walk in and out of a liquor store and delicatessen, which had also been robbed. He is then asked to write the words from a "stick-up note" note used in the insurance office robbery; he misspells the word "drawer" as "draw"  the same mistake seen in the robber's note. After being picked out of a police lineup by a worker at the insurance office, he is arrested.

Attorney Frank O'Connor (Anthony Quayle) sets out to prove that Manny cannot possibly be the right man: at the time of the first hold-up he was on vacation with his family, and at the time of the second his jaw was so swollen that witnesses would certainly have noticed. Of three people who saw Manny at the vacation hotel, two have died and the third cannot be found. All this devastates Rose, whose resulting depression forces her to be hospitalized.

During Manny's trial a juror's remark forces a mistrial. While awaiting a second trial he is exonerated when the true robber is arrested holding up a grocery store. Manny visits Rose at the hospital to share the good news, but, as the film ends, she remains severely depressed; a textual epilogue explains that she recovered two years later.


Cast notes

Historical notes

Chris Balestrero's Attorney, the real O'Connor (1909–1992) was a former New York State Senator at the time of the trial, and later became the district attorney of Queens County (New York City, New York), the president of the New York City Council and an appellate-court judge.

Rose Balestrero (1910–1982) died in Florida at the age of 72.[10] Unlike what was stated in the film, Rose never fully recovered after her nervous breakdown. She blamed herself for her husband's arrest.[11]

Chris and Rose's son, Gregory Balestrero went on to earn a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. And has become the CEO of the Project Management Institute.

Chris did sue the city for his false arrest. Asking $500,000, he accepted a settlement of just $7,000.[11]

Chris Balestrero earned $22,000 from the film, which went to repaying loans for Rose's care.[11]

A street is co-named after Chris, “Manny ‘The Wrong Man’ Balestrero Way.’’ at 73rd St. and 41st Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens NY. The street is not far from Chris's real home. [12][13][14]


A Hitchcock cameo is typical of most of his films. In The Wrong Man, he appears only in silhouette in a darkened studio, just before the credits at the beginning of the film, announcing that the story is true. Originally, he intended to be seen as a customer walking into the Stork Club, but he edited himself out of the final print.[15]

Many scenes were filmed in Jackson Heights, the neighborhood where Manny lived when he was accused. Most of the prison scenes were filmed among the convicts in a New York City prison in Queens. The courthouse was located at the corner of Catalpa Avenue and 64th Street in Ridgewood.[16]

Bernard Herrmann composed the soundtrack, as he had for all of Hitchcock's films from The Trouble with Harry (1955) through Marnie (1964). It is one of the most subdued scores Herrmann ever wrote, and one of the few he composed with some jazz elements, here primarily to represent Fonda's appearance as a musician in the nightclub scenes.

This was Hitchcock's final film for Warner Bros. It completed a contract commitment that had begun with two films produced for Transatlantic Pictures and released by Warner Brothers: Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949), his first two films in Technicolor. After The Wrong Man, Hitchcock returned to Paramount Pictures.


Contemporary reviews were mixed to negative, with many critics finding the realism of the film to be less compelling than the dramatic suspense that Hitchcock was known for. A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote that Hitchcock "has fashioned a somber case history that merely points a finger of accusation. His principals are sincere and they enact a series of events that actually are part of New York's annals of crime but they rarely stir the emotions or make a viewer's spine tingle. Frighteningly authentic, the story generates only a modicum of drama."[17] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times agreed, writing that "As drama, unhappily, it proves again that life can be more interminable than fiction."[18] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote, "Having succeeded often in making fiction seem like fact, Alfred Hitchcock in 'The Wrong Man' now manages to make fact seem like fiction. But it is not good nor interesting fiction."[19] John McCarten of The New Yorker declared, "Mr. Hitchcock makes a good point about the obtuseness of a police group that holds firm to the belief that everyone is guilty until proved innocent, but his story of the badgered musician is never very gripping."[20] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that the early police procedural scenes "make a powerful contribution to the effectiveness of the film's first part," but that Rose's hospitalization felt like a "dramatically gratuitous development, particularly as its demands are ill met by the actress concerned," and that the final act of the film suffered a "slow decline into a flatly factual ending."[21]

Some reviews were positive. Variety called the film "a gripping piece of realism" that builds to a "powerful climax, the events providing director a field day in his art of characterization and suspense."[22] Harrison's Reports was also positive, calling it "Grim but absorbing melodramatic fare" with Henry Fonda and Vera Miles "highly effective" in their roles.[23] Jean-Luc Godard, in his lengthy treatise on the film, wrote: "The only suspense in The Wrong Man is that of chance itself. The subject of this film lies less in the unexpectedness of events than in their probability. With each shot, each transition, each composition, Hitchcock does the only thing possible for the rather paradoxical but compelling reason that he could do anything he liked."[24]

More recent assessments have been more uniformly positive. The film holds a 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes as of July 2018, based on reviews from 21 surveyed critics.[25] Glenn Kenny, writing for in 2016, stated that the film may be the "least fun" of Hitchcock's Hollywood period, but that it "is as fluently styled a movie as Hitchcock ever made."[26] Richard Brody of The New Yorker wrote that "few films play so tightly on the contrast between unimpeachably concrete details and the vertiginous pretenses of reality. Hitchcock’s ultimate point evokes cosmic terror: innocence is merely a trick of paperwork, whereas guilt is the human condition."[27]

See also


  1. Variety film review; January 2, 1957, page 6.
  2. Harrison's Reports film review; December 22, 1956, page 204.
  3. Harris, R.A.; Lasky, M.S. (2002). The Complete Films of Alfred Hitchcock. Citadel. ISBN 9780806524276.
  4. "The Wrong Man". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  5. Brean, Herbert (June 29, 1953). "A Case of Identity". Life, p. 97.
  6. Godard on Godard (translated by Tom Milne, Da Capo Press)
  7. D, David (2013-04-17). "Toronto Film Review: History of Film Criticism: Godard on The Wrong Man". Toronto Film Review. Retrieved 2018-12-14.
  8. Scorsese on Scorsese (edited by Ian Christie and David Thompson)
  9. "The Wrong Man (1956)" via
  10. "".
  11. Lumenick, Lou (2016-02-07). "A case of mistaken identity ruined this man's life — and inspired Hitchcock". New York Post. Retrieved 2019-10-26.
  12. "41st Ave & 73rd St". 41st Ave & 73rd St. Retrieved 2019-10-26.
  13. Retrieved 2019-10-26. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. October 01, ohtadmin | on; 2014. "Jackson Heights Co-Naming Immortalizes 'Wrong Man' | Queens Gazette". Retrieved 2019-10-26.
  15. TV Guide Movie Reviews. The Greatest Films of All Time. 2005. p. 188.
  16. "RIDGEWOOD, Queens - Forgotten New York".
  17. Weiler, A. H. (December 24, 1956). "Screen: New Format for Hitchcock:". The New York Times: 8.
  18. Scheuer, Philip K. (January 24, 1957). "Hitchcock 'Wrong Man' Lifelike but Plodding". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 9.
  19. Coe, Richard L. (January 18, 1957). "Story's 'True' But Not 'Real'". The Washington Post: A17.
  20. McCarten, John (January 5, 1957). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 61.
  21. "The Wrong Man". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 24 (278): 31. March 1957.
  22. "The Wrong Man". Variety: 6. January 2, 1957.
  23. "'The Wrong Man' with Henry Fonda and Vera Miles". Harrison's Reports: 204. December 22, 1956.
  24. "The Wrong Man". San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 2017. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  25. "The Wrong Man". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  26. Kenny, Glenn (February 17, 2016). "'The Wrong Man': Hitchcock's Least 'Fun' Movie is Also One of his Greatest". Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  27. Brody, Richard. "The Wrong Man". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
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