Manny Balestrero is your American everyman. Who better to play him in the 1956 Hitchcock film “The Wrong Man” than the laid back Henry Fonda.
(Spoiler Alert: if you are interested in seeing the film, read this after you do.)
But for me, Fonda is more easygoing in this flick than I could take. As Manny, he just takes and takes as he is railroaded by some dipsy female clerks at an insurance company and the police for a crime he didn’t commit.
Manny is like a lot of us. He is trying to make ends meet and do his best to be a good husband and father to his two boys.
As his wife says, every time they seem to get ahead something happens. In the opening to “The Wrong Man”, the setback is that she has to have her wisdom teeth removed.
As they discuss what to do, Manny remembers that his wife has a ldife insurance policy they can draw funds on. So he heads off to the office to check into taking out some money.
When he enters, one of the clerks becomes extremely nervous, thinking he is the man who had robbed her earlier. As she serves Manny, she runs back to her female colleagues in a distraught state and “confirms” with them that he is indeed the robber.
Manny goes home but is confronted at his front door by some plainsclothes police officers. They insist that he come with them to their precinct, not even letting him talk to his wife before sticking him in their vehicle or explaining to him what he was being detained for.
Before going to the police station, they even make him parade into diner and liquor store to see if the victims of other robberies in those places can recognize him.
At this point, I became extremely frustrated. By this time I would have “lawyered up””, as they say in all the modern police shows on TV. Perhaps Manny was worried about the expense. He just calmly does what he is told.
Without offering representation or a phone call, the cops use some suspect techniques at the precinct to nail their man. Finally, Manny is booked, arraigned locked up. As he enters his cell, he is obviously traumatized.
Things seem to turn around for him when he gets out on bail and a friend gets him some legal help. Though not a criminal attorney, Manny’s lawyer is sincere and competent and gives good advice.
One of the best things he tells Manny is to start to defend himself by gathering evidence on his own behalf. He sends him and his wife off to get information that will give him an alibi.
So at about the halfway point in the film, I began to have hope for Manny. He has a lawyer and he is not just taking abuse from people with their own misguided agendas.
But when their attempts at garnering evidence fail, Manny’s wife starts to lose it. She first freaks out, even suggesting that her husband committed the crime, and then withdraws so badly that she has to be institutionalized.
At this point, the pain in my chest returned. I could relate to Manny’s predicament.
I too have been wrongly accused by a wife who suggested I did something quite heinous, a complete untruth. This suggestion led me to leave her and prevents me from even considering any kind of reconciliation.
The difference between Manny’s wife and mine is that she does not admit she has a problem. Manny’s spouse told him that she needed to be put away.
I was all ready to let “The Wrong Man” help me throw my own pity party. But then Manny’s mother makes a suggestion: why don’t you pray?
Manny, like many good American male, blows off a suggestion from his mother. But then he sees a portrait of Jesus and quite mumbles out a prayer.
It is after this that the worm turns for Manny. He eventually is exonerated, and even though it takes a couple more years, his wife is let loose from the psychiatric ward completely healed.
A classic flick that could have very well sent me into a tailspin of my own depression actually provided me with some positive spiritual teaching.
They don’t make ’em like the used to.