Book Review: Partners in Suspense

Book Cover

Publisher: Manchester University Press

Release Date: January 18, 2017

“This book brings together new work and new perspectives on the relationship between Hitchcock and Herrmann. Featuring chapters by leading scholars of Hitchcock’s work, the volume examines the working relationship between the two and the contribution that Herrmann’s work brings to Hitchcock’s idiom, as well as expanding our understanding of how music fits into that body of work. The goal of these analyses is to explore approaches to sound, music, collaborative authorship, and the distinctive contribution that Herrmann brought to Hitchcock’s films. Consequently, the book examines these key works, with particular focus on what Elisabeth Weis called ‘the extra-subjective films’—Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963)—and explores Herrmann’s palpable role in shaping the sonic and musical landscape of Hitchcock’s work, which, the volume argues, has a considerable transformative effect on how we understand Hitchcock’s authorship.

The collection examines the significance, meanings, histories, and enduring legacies of one of film history’s most important partnerships. By engaging with the collaborative work of Hitchcock and Herrmann, the chapters [or essays] in the collection examine the ways in which film directors and composers collaborate, and how this collaboration is experienced in the films themselves. In addition, the collection addresses the continued hierarchization of vision over sound in the conceptualization of cinema and readdresses this balance though the exploration of the work of these two significant figures and their work together during the 1950sand 1960s” K.J. Donnelly and Steven Rawle (Introduction, Partners in Suspense, January 18, 2017)

As this excerpt from the book’s introduction suggests, “Partners in Suspense” is a collection of fourteen scholarly articles about the creative marriage of Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock. Although their working relationship would eventually end in divorce, their collaboration lasted over a decade and gave audiences eight films (some of which are considered to be amongst the best ever made). This is a subject that has too often been overlooked, and a book on the subject is long overdue.

The essays included cover a range of subjects with varying degrees of success. A list of the titles should help one determine the subjects discussed in its pages:

Bernard Herrmann: Hitchcock’s Secret Sharer – by: Jack Sullivan

Hitchcock, Music and the Mathematics of Editing – by: Charles Barr

The Anatomy of Aural Suspense in Rope and Vertigo – by: Kevin Clifton

The Therapeutic Power of Music in Hitchcock’s Films – by: Sidney Gottlieb

A Lacanian Take on Herrmann/Hitchcock – by: Royal S. Brown

Portentous Arrangements: Bernard Herrmann and The Man Who Knew Too Much – by: Murray Pomerance

On the Road with Hitchcock and Herrmann: Sound, Music, and the Car Journey in Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960) – by: Pasquale Iannone

A Dance to the Music of Herrmann: A Figurative Dance Suite – by: David Cooper

The Sound of The Birds – by: Richard Allen

Musical Romanticism v. The Sexual Aberrations of the Criminal Female: Marnie (1964) – by: K. J. Donnelly

The Murder of Gromek: Theme and Variations – by: Tomas Williams

Mending the Torn Curtain: A Rejected Score’s Place in a Discography – by: Gergely Hubai

The Herrmann-Hitchcock Murder Mysteries: Post-Mortem – by: William H. Rosar

How Could You Possibly be a Hitchcocko-Herrmannian? (Digitally Re-Narrativising Collaborative Authorship) – by: Steven Rawle

Perhaps the most immediate surprise when considering the topics discussed in this collection is the lack of information and analysis about Herrmann’s first collaboration with Hitchcock (The Trouble with Harry). It would seem that their first collaboration would be of special interest, and the book does provide some general information about Lyn Murray’s initial suggestion that the director work with Herrmann (including excerpts from Murray’s personal journal), but the score for The Trouble with Harry is largely ignored. What’s more, the book neglects Herrmann’s wonderful score for the The Wrong Man—which is one of their most interesting collaborations.

Those looking for a biographical account of the Hitchcock/Herrmann relationship will likely be disappointed. What these pages offer is scholarly examination of Herrmann’s music and how his scores affect the finished film. Anecdotal information is only given as a means to contextualize the theoretical analysis or to provide support to the arguments being made. The result is useful (especially to other scholars), but average cinephiles will be less enthusiastic—especially if they do not already have a rudimentary knowledge of music.

Review by: Devon Powell

Offbeat Blu-ray Review: Taxi Driver – 40th Anniversary Edition

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Distributor: Sony Pictures

Release Date: November 08, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 114 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

5.1 French DTS-HD Master Audio

5.1 Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio

5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital

+ Various Other Languages

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Mandarin, Thai

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: Sony released an earlier Blu-ray edition of this film that is quite remarkable in its own right and a 2-Disc DVD “Special Edition” set is also available. This review compares this 40th Anniversary Edition with the previous Blu-ray release.

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“What happens is that you find, through these images, a way of writing with the camera that stays in your mind. The Wrong Man by Hitchcock has more to do with the camera movements in Taxi Driver than any other picture I can think of. It’s such a heavy influence because of the sense of guilt and paranoia. Look at the scenes where Henry Fonda has to go back to the bank with the police and just walk up and down while the tellers look at him. They’re deciding a man’s fate. And watch the camera moves. Or the use of color in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes. I think there’s that kind of influencing. It’s not necessarily direct stealing. Each film is interlocked with so many other films. You can’t get away. Whatever you do now that you think is new was already done in 1913.” -Martin Scorsese (Interview with Roger Ebert, January 11, 1998)

Scorsese learned his art from those who came before him. He studied and passionately dissected great works with such an intensity that he became one of the most important cinematic voices of his generation—if not the most important. Today’s new crop of filmmakers would do well to follow his example, and they might start with Taxi Driver. The film is Scorsese’s first masterwork, and it is a prime example of the importance of story over plot.

“The films that I constantly revisited or saw repeatedly held up longer for me over the years—not because of plot but because of character and a very different approach to story. Just for example, talk about Hitchcock and we see his films in the fifties as they came out: Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, all the way up to—you know, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and into Psycho… but I think over the years the films that I enjoy watching repeatedly—The Wrong Man, for example, is a picture that I’ve used as an example of mood, paranoid style, beautiful New York location photography. It was a picture that I screened for Michael Chapman, Paul Schrader, and everybody for Taxi Driver. And I think ultimately it was one of the reasons I said Bernard Herrmann had to do the score. You know, I think so. And I talked about the paranoid camera moves, the feelings of threat… I find that that [sic] is more interesting to me… I saw Rebecca maybe ten times—fourteen times. But [at] a certain point—for me the style of Hitchcock in that film is only in the sequence when Mrs. Danvers shows Rebecca’s room to Joan Fontaine. That’s about it. For the rest of it, I know the plot and it’s not interesting anymore.” -Martin Scorsese (Dinner for Five, 2004)

The Wrong Man

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man was an acknowledged inspiration to Martin Scorsese while he was planning Taxi Driver.

Scorsese seems to prefer films that stress character and ambiguity of feeling, thinking, and motivation. This tendency is an important part of his own filmography. Actions are always motivated, and those engaging with the film will sense this. However, he doesn’t always spell everything out for his audiences. We watch the characters act and react while he leaves it to his audiences to piece everything together. This is why a Scorsese film merits repeat viewings.

There are layers of subtext to explore and many new things that one can discover with each screening, and Taxi Driver is a textbook example of this powerful approach to filmmaking. Travis Bickle is one of the most memorable social misfits in all of cinema because he is simultaneously inscrutable and accessible. Martin Scorsese once claimed that Taxi Driver was born out of his “feeling that movies are really a kind of dream-state—or like taking dope.” The vagueness of the narrative contributes to the film’s dream-like nature and provides an extremely subjective experience. Perhaps this is the reason that Taxi Driver has endured for 40 years. People experience the film in ways that are accessible to them. The film grows and changes with the viewer and its power never diminishes.

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The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

If anyone is going to negatively compare this new 40th Anniversary Edition to Sony’s 2011 Digi-book release, it will be due solely to the fact that this new release is given a more standard presentation. The two discs are housed in a standard Blu-ray case with film-related artwork that originated as one of the film’s American one-sheet designs. The case is further protected by a slipcover that utilizes this same artwork. The 12 5 x 7 semi-gloss lobby card photographs included with Sony’s previous release of Taxi Driver aren’t included here either. However, it should be firmly stated that the artwork used for this release is vastly superior to the “Digi-book” art, and this nearly makes up for any perceived deficiencies.

The animated menu for Disc One of this release is essentially the same as the previous release. It has been altered only to include and exclude certain items (since this release adds a new program and spreads the supplementary materials between two discs). They are still extremely attractive and showcase the incredible Bernard Herrmann score to good effect.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 MacGuffins

This excellent transfer stems from the film’s 4K restoration which was supervised by Martin Scorsese and Michael Chapman in an effort to ensure that their original visions were kept intact. The resulting transfer is exceptional. It is difficult to imagine that the film ever looked any better than it does on this incredible transfer—although Sony’s 2011 Blu-ray release is certainly comparable (if not equal) to this new edition.

Both transfers exhibit a cinematic layer of grain that is faithful to its celluloid source and the image seems to be free of any DNR or scrubbing of the image. Edge enhancement is also never an issue. Instead, the image maintains the film’s detail in a manner that is much clearer than it has ever been on home video prior to the 4K restoration. Shadow detail is top notch and blacks seem surprisingly accurate and free of any issues. Colors also seem to be rendered accurately. The only noticeable flaw in the entire image is the shoddy looking Columbia logo at the beginning of the film.

This 40th Anniversary Edition might have a marginal edge over that earlier release but it is difficult to notice any distinct differences with the naked eye.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 MacGuffins

Our ears cannot hear any noticeable differences when comparing this 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio transfer to the one included with the 2011 release, but we can say that there isn’t much room for complaint about either edition.

While the track will not compete with more modern sound mixes, it represents the film as it should be represented. The film’s source elements are produced here with fantastic fidelity. The dialogue is mixed at consistent levels and is always extremely clear. Bernard Herrmann’s classic score has never sounded as good as it does here. It is conceivable that a few people might complain that the surround activity of the mix is limited, but purists will agree that this is as is it should be. It is difficult to imagine that this film has ever sounded better than it does on this here. 

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Special Features:

5 of 5 MacGuffins

This is one of those rare Blu-ray releases that takes a seemingly perfect supplemental package and improves upon it. Sony’s 2011 release included a comprehensive set of supplemental material that we gave five stars (and it absolutely deserved them). It would have been very difficult to predict that it was even possible to improve upon that package, but this release includes a few more supplements that manage to make this release even more outstanding.

The supplements are spread throughout two separate discs:

Disc 1 (Blu-ray):

Audio Commentary with Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader

This feature length commentary with Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader is the best of the discs three commentary tracks. The track was originally recorded for the 1986 Criterion Laserdisc release. Scorsese dominates the track and offers his thoughts on the production. He is always engaging. Schrader’s comments are repeated in his solo track but offer another perspective on occasion. It is an essential listening experience for fans of the film.

Audio Commentary with Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader discusses the film from a writer’s standpoint. His commentary is leisurely paced, but he does offer a few interesting details about the production along the way.

Audio Commentary with Robert Kolker

Robert Kolker (Author of “A Cinema of Loneliness”) delivers an extremely engaging and screen specific analysis of the entire film. Kolker delivers his commentary in an enthusiastic manner that manages to keep the track from becoming overly dry.

Taxi Driver Q&A – (1080p) – (41:56)

This 40-minute conference is moderated by Kent Jones and includes Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Michael Phillips, Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, and Harvey Keitel in a panel discussion about the legendary production. It was recorded live at the Beacon Theatre in New York City at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and covers much of the same anecdotal information discussed in the various documentaries and featurettes included elsewhere in this supplemental package. It is interesting as a sort of reunion but the included information is more fully explored in some of the other features. Having said this, fans will probably agree that it is a nice addition to this new Blu-ray edition.

Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver – (1080p) – (16:52)

This featurette features Scorsese as he looks back on the film and discusses several aspects of production. Some of this information is repeated in the “Making of” documentary, but this never becomes an issue. The director is always interesting and it is important to have a featurette that focuses on his memories of the production.

Producing Taxi Driver – (1080p) – (09:53)

Michael Phillips (Producer) and Paul Schrader (Screenwriter) discuss the difficulties of getting Taxi Driver made from a producer’s standpoint.

God’s Lonely Man – (1080p) – (21:42)

Paul Schrader discusses the Travis Bickel character in great detail and also covers his experiences writing the script. Most of this information was discussed in his commentary track.

Influence and Appreciation: A Martin Scorsese Tribute – (1080p) – (18:30)

Sony neglected to list this featurette on the back of the Blu-ray and on the press releases for this Blu-ray release, but fans can breathe a sigh of relief and rest easy in the knowledge that it has indeed been carried over for this 40th Anniversary release.

Scorsese’s associates and contemporaries (Robert De Niro, Paul Schrader, Roger Corman, Oliver Stone, and others) discuss the director and his legacy. This is an interesting featurette, but one wishes that it was a more comprehensive look at the director’s legendary career.

Travis’ New York – (1080p) – (06:16)

Michael Chapman, Ed Koch, and a few other participants discuss New York as it was in the 1970s and the changes that were made in the years since that period.

Travis’ New York Locations – (1080p) – (04:49)

This interesting split-screen style supplement showcases nine of the film’s scenes as footage from the same location is shown as they appeared in 2006. It is certainly interesting to see the drastic changes made to these locations.

Taxi Driver Stories – (1080p) – (22:23)

Cab drivers (and former cab drivers) share their experiences of working in New York in the 1970s. This featurette is interesting but it is one of the less essential supplements included on the disc.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:56)

Fans will be happy to note that this 40th Anniversary Edition includes a small upgrade that has escaped publicity. Instead of the awful DVD promo for Taxi Driver that was included on the previous Blu-ray, we are given the actual vintage theatrical trailer for the film. This should bring a smile to the faces of anyone who was disappointed to find that it wasn’t included in previous editions (and this reviewer certainly falls into that category).

Interactive Script to Screen:

This supplement allows the viewer to read a slightly reorganized screenplay as they view the film. It is an instructive experience.

Disk 2 (DVD):

Making Taxi Driver – (01:10:55)

Laurent Bouzereau’s comprehensive documentary on the making of Taxi Driver is still the best feature on a disc full of excellent supplements. With a length of over 70 minutes, every aspect of production is discussed by the film’s cast and crew (Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle, Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Michael Chapman, and more).

Intro to Storyboards by Martin Scorsese – (04:32)

Martin Scorsese discusses his reasons for using storyboards to help him plan (or pre-visualize) his scenes.

Storyboard to Film Comparison – (08:21)

Viewers are shown rough pre-production sketches of some of the shots as they play along with footage from the film. It is an interesting supplement.

Animated Photo Galleries – (09:28)

This feature is essentially a collection of four photo galleries (Bernard Herrmann Score, On Location, Publicity Materials, and Scorsese at Work) that are edited into video montages that feature Bernard Herrmann’s score.

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Final Words:

Taxi Driver is an amazing film and a classic that is required viewing for everyone. Many cinephiles still hold the film up as the director’s best film, and this new 40th Anniversary Edition is a grand tribute that manages to marginally improve upon their already excellent 2011 Blu-ray release. The 4K restoration image, incredible sound mix, and comprehensive supplementary material make the disc an essential purchase for those who have not already indulged in the earlier release—and it might validate an upgrade for those who already own the earlier release due to the new Q & A featurette. However, most fans will probably be quite happy simply owning one of either two releases.

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Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Hidden Hitchcock

Dust Jacket

Publisher: The University of Chicago Press

Release Date: August 1, 2016

“It is my project here to trace a different, more devious rout taken by the surplus scrutiny that Hitchcock mobilizes in us. In contrast to the games that he is known to play with his Pavlovianly [sic] trained mass audience, I postulate a game he would be playing with that absurdly, pointlessly watchful spectator who dwells within us all, but whom, as members of a mass audience, or as critics in loyal alignment with it, we mostly put on lockdown; and whom I call the Too-Close Viewer. In this game, and for this viewer alone, Hitchcock would cultivate, alongside his manifest style with its hyper-legible images, a secret style that sows these images with radical duplicity. The type of duplicity to which this book gives emblematic pride of place is the hidden picture, in which a strongly narrativized [sic] image has been fashioned to conceal something that – if ever seen – would not enhance its coherence, but explode it. Imagine a small continuity error made on purpose, or a Hitchcock cameo fashioned so as not to be seen or a narrative image secretly doubling for a figure of speech in the manner of a charade, and you will have anticipated three key subtypes of Hitchcock’s hidden picturing. I take all such hidden pictures as sporadic but insistent marks of a perverse counter narrative in Hitchcock that for no reason – or for no good enough reason – takes the viewer out of the story and out of the social compact its telling presupposes. Into what is hard to say. Structurally, the hidden pictures resist being integrated into the narrative or any ostensible intentionality; and whatever we might say about any one of them as a species of content falls markedly short of accounting for their enigma as a recurring form of Hitchcock’s film-writing. It is as though, at the heart of the manifest style, there pulsed an irregular extra beat, the surreptitious ‘murmur’ of its undoing that only the Too-Close Viewer could apprehend…” –D.A. Miller (Hidden Hitchcock, Preview, 2016)

Miller’s thesis sounded somewhat questionable upon reading the first pages of his Preview (or introduction) chapter in Hidden Hitchcock. It felt as if the following chapters would be filled with what could only be over-reaching guess-work written in the wake of too many other questionable theories about Hitchcock’s work. Luckily, this is only partly true. There certainly are a few unseen visual anomalies in Alfred Hitchcock’s work, and there are quite a few of these mentioned in Hidden Hitchcock that are unquestionably present on the screen. (This reviewer spotted some of them before reading Miller’s text.) As a quick example, I call to the reader’s attention a certain hidden cameo that alert viewers can see during the opening train sequence of Strangers on a Train:

“…We are unlikely, therefore, to pay attention to a small detail that emerges at the very moment when the suddenly upraised camera gives Guy and Bruno their first full registration. This is the book that Guy is holding, his train reading; on its back cover is the face of Alfred Hitchcock, who is thus visible, if not actually seen, eight minutes before what we commonly take as his appearance. There is no doubt about it we get several more views of this book—the front cover as well as the back, and the spine too—and though no one has ever noticed it, I did not find it impossible to identify. It is ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s Fireside Book of Suspense,a collection of mystery stories, published by Simon and Schuster in 1947, that Hitchcock edited, annotated, and prefaced with an essay called ‘The Quality of Suspense…’-D.A. Miller (Hidden Hitchcock, Hidden Pictures, 2016)

While this discovery wasn’t particularly surprising to this reviewer, having spotted Hitchcock’s appearance on this book several years prior to reading Miller’s thesis, this and a few other examples validate the possibility that some of his other discoveries could be legitimate as well. (There wasn’t time to go through the films discussed and analyze each one.) However, some of his theories as to what these Hitchcock appearances, continuity errors, and narrative images (or “charades”) actually mean could easily be disputed. The nature of film theory is that it is and will always remain theory. As a matter of fact, some of Miller’s discoveries cannot be proven to be intentional decisions made by Hitchcock. Certain continuity errors that have been brought to the reader’s attention might very easily be errors (every film has them).

It is particularly interesting that Miller has narrowed his focus to merely a handful of moments that can be found in three of the director’s films (with the exception of a moment in Murder that was analyzed in the Preview chapter):

“…Accordingly, I am at liberty to worship him in any of his fifty-two manifestations; there simply are no wrong choices. And yet, while forms of hidden picturing are lying all over the place in Hitchcock, the impetus for wanting to write on them came almost entirely from the three films I treat in this book: Strangers on a Train, Rope, and The Wrong Man. Why these films and not others? To anyone not myself, who was galvanized by it, my archive must appear, if not exactly marginal, a bit “off,” drawing on Hitchcock’s greatest period (the long 50s) by stopping just before Vertigo and the other universally acknowledged masterpieces in its wake… These films seemed to choose me; by whatever fatal attraction, they alone laid the traps I fell into with the sufficiently catalyzing thud.” –D.A. Miller (Hidden Hitchcock, Preview, 2016)

It is nice that Miller has chosen to focus on three films that deserve more attention, and this is especially true of The Wrong Man. Too little is written about this underappreciated film, and it is nice to that Miller has seen fit to include it here. There is a particular scene in this film that I look forward to reviewing in order to test one of Miller’s discoveries. It might not be essential reading for casual film viewers, but Hidden Hitchcock has the power to inspire further (and closer) viewing of Hitchcock’s work, and it is certainly worth recommending to scholars and fans for this reason alone.

Review by: Devon Powell

 

 

 

Blu-ray Review: The Wrong Man

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Release Date: January 26, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 01:45:20

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

2.0 French Dolby Digital

2.0 Spanish (Castellano) Dolby Digital

2.0 Spanish (Latino) Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish (Castellano), Spanish (Latino), Czech, Polish

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 32.91 Mbps

Notes: This title was previously released and is still available in a DVD edition.

Title

“On about 5:30 on the evening of last Jan. 14 a 43-year old nightclub musician named Balestrero mounted the steps of his home, a modest stucco two-family house at 41-30 73rd St. in Queens, a borough of the City of New York, and took out h. is key. As he did so, he heard a hail from across the dark street: ‘Hey, Chris!’ Balestrero turned curiously. His first name was Christopher, but he is known to his family and friends as ‘Manny,’ a shortening of his middle name Emanuel. Three men came up to him out of the murky shadows of a winter evening. They said they were police officers and showed him badges clipped to wallets.

Balestrero, experiencing a little quiver of uneasiness, asked what they wanted. The detectives ordered him to come to the 110th precinct station. They were polite, firm and uninformative. Balestrero became alarmed… His conscience was clear, and the detectives were polite, but their inexorable manner was frightening.

Without even going in to tell his wife that he had returned from an afternoon visit with his mother in Union City, N.J., Balestrero accompanied the three detectives to the precinct station, and then on a tour of a dozen Queens liquor and drug stores and delicatessens. At each stop, the routine was the same. Balestrero was instructed to go into the store and walk to the counter and back under the scrutiny of the proprietor. As they drove between stores, the detectives talked with Balestrero of inconsequential things like television programs. They assured him that if he had done nothing he had nothing to fear.

On their return to the station the detectives told him what it was all about… Up to this point the train of events had the somnambulistic quality of a bad dream. Now it became a nightmare.” –Herbert Brean (A Case of Identity, Life Magazine, June 29, 1953)

It is easy to picture the portly director with a twinkle in his eyes as he read Brean’s text. As a matter of fact, one might mistake these paragraphs for a rough treatment outline for the eventual screenplay. This isn’t the case at all. “A Case of Identity” was simply an article about a tragic mistake that nearly ruined a man’s life. It was merely a coincidence that it touched upon some of Alfred Hitchcock’s pet themes. Herbert Brean was, however, commissioned to work with the director on a 69 page treatment in the June of 1955.

June 29, 1953 - Posed Photograph of real Manny - Life Mag

This is a posed photograph of real the real Manny Balestrero taken for “Life” Magazine. The photo re-enacts Manny’s apprehension by the police.

Actually, the article was adapted as the subject for an 60-minute episode of “Robert Montgomery Presents” in 1954, but the episode was nowhere near as chilling (or as brilliantly rendered) as Alfred Hitchcock’s film. He remained faithful to the facts contained in Brean’s article, and even did exhaustive additional research into the case in order to ensure fidelity to Balestrero’s unique story. Hitchcock became consumed with minute details, and this concern can be seen in the final product.

As a matter of fact, Hitchcock had been secretly longing to make a more down-to-earth story (having been inspired by Italian Neo-realist films). Balestrero’s story seemed the perfect subject for him to achieve this goal.

The Wrong Man offered Hitchcock a real-life incident—involving an Italian American—that would enable him to continue his lifelong critique of the judicial system. It gave him an opportunity to adopt an ‘unmistakably documentary’ approach, in his words—a radical challenge for the director… He wanted to tell the story exactly as it had transpired, with minimal dramatic or cinematic embellishment.” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

shooting a cameo that never ended up in the film

Alfred Hitchcock’s commitment to the actual events, and his respect for the story led him to scrape his usual cameo appearance. He added an introductory prologue to the film instead.

Hitchcock himself elaborated on the film’s fidelity to the actual events in great detail during his lengthy interview with François Truffaut years later. He even gave a specific example:

“…For the sake of authenticity everything was minutely reconstructed with the people who were actually involved in that drama. We even used some of them in some of the episodes and, whenever possible, relatively unknown actors. We shot the locations where the events really took place. Inside the prison we observed how the inmates handle their bedding and their clothes; then we found an empty cell for Fonda and we made him handle the routines exactly as the inmates had done. We also used the actual psychiatric rest home to which his wife was sent and had the actual doctors playing themselves.

But here’s an instance of what we learn by shooting a film in which all scenes are authentically reconstructed. At the end, the real guilty party is captured while he’s trying to rob a delicatessen, through the courage of the lady owner. I imagined that the way to do that scene was to have the man go into the store take out his gun and demand the contents of the cash drawer. The lady would manage in some way to sound the alarm, or there might be a struggle of some kind in which the thief was pinned down. Well, what really took place—and this is the way we did it in the picture—is that the man walked into the shop and asked the lady for some frankfurters and some ham. As she passed him to get behind the counter, he held his gun in his pocket and aimed it at her. The woman had in her hand a large knife to cut ham with. Without losing her nerve, she pointed the point of the knife against his stomach, and as he stood there, taken aback, she stamped her foot twice on the floor. The man, rather worried, said, ‘Take it easy, lady.’ But the woman, remaining surprisingly calm, didn’t budge an inch and didn’t say a word. The man was so taken aback by her sang-froid that he couldn’t think of what to do next. A;; of a sudden the woman’s husband, warned by her stamping, came up from the cellar and grabbed the thief by the shoulders to push him into a corner of the shop against the food shelves while his wife called the police. The thief, thoroughly scared, began to whine: ‘Let me go. My wife and kids are waiting for me.’ I loved that line; it’s the sort of thing you wouldn’t dream of writing into a scenario, and even if it occurred to you, you simply wouldn’t dare use it.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

Fidelity was probably the issue that Hitchcock, Angus MacPhail, and screenwriter Maxwell Anderson discussed most during the writing sessions. Minute details were discussed at length. No detail was too mundane for Hitchcock. He wanted to know how many people would have been in a subway station at 4 o’clock in the morning, what time a five-year-old would go to bed, precise police procedure, the order of events, and what the principal and ancillary participants in this real-life story were thinking and doing at every point in the story.

“When Anderson placed the scene where Manny is booked and fingerprinted too early in the script, Hitchcock gently reminded the writer of ‘the actual order of events.’ When Anderson wrote a speech in which a juror interrupted the proceedings to admit he has already reached a guilty conclusion before hearing all the evidence, Hitchcock praised Anderson’s writing, but said he couldn’t use the speech in the film. Anderson had taken too much license, and the speech as written was fictitious—‘a major contradiction of the actual events, and could be so easily used in hostile criticism.’ Whenever the team hit a dry spell, they returned to the actual people. Re-interviewing them for new ideas.” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

This isn’t to say that minute details weren’t slightly altered for structuring purposes (or for points of clarity). There were small changes made if they could be altered without betraying the overall reality of any given moment. Of course, the biggest change made from the actual events was the text-based epilogue that was added to the final shot that assured audiences of Rose’s recovery. Rose had not fully recovered at the time the film was released. Audiences of the era expected happy resolutions.

Crook and Victim

This is a comparison of Balestrero and the real criminal that was published in “Life” Magazine.

Actual Stick-up Note and Manny's Note

A comparison between the original stick-up note and Manny’s note was also published with the “Life” Magazine article. This became a key element in the film.

Hitchcock has also been criticized for including a scene that shows the real culprit incriminating himself just as Manny begins to pray, but Balestrero’s strong catholic faith was suggested in the Brean article more than once. (In fact, Hitchcock discovered that Manny’s mother did urge her son to pray for strength after the mistrial.) The first suggestion of his faith in prayer occurred while Manny was waiting in a small jail cell.

“…He could not sleep. A religious man, he spent most of the night in prayer, much of it on his knees. He wondered what would happen to him…” –Herbert Brean (A Case of Identity, Life Magazine, June 29, 1953)

The next example is even more suggestive (and is also dramatized in Hitchcock’s film version).

“…The first girl was asked I the holdup man was in the courtroom and, if he was, to step down and place her hand on his shoulder. The girl pointed out Balestrero, but when she tried to touch his shoulder she almost fainted from fear. It obviously impressed the jury. After that, the other girl witnesses were asked to point him out, and one after another they did. Balestrero again was seized with a wild desire to stand up and shout. ‘It’s a horrible feeling, having someone accuse you. You can’t imagine what was inside of me. I prayed for a miracle.

And a miracle—of sorts—happened. On the third day of the trial Juror No. 4, a man named Lloyd Espenschied, rose suddenly in the jury box… ‘Judge, do we have to listen to all this?’ The question implied a presupposition of the defendant’s guilt by a juror—a violation of his responsibility to refrain from any conclusion until all the evidence is in. It gave the defense an opportunity to move for a mistrial…” –Herbert Brean (A Case of Identity, Life Magazine, June 29, 1953)

It isn’t a huge stretch to assume that the stress of having to go through the process of another trial would lead to more prayer. This is an established habit of the real-life Manny. In light of this, it seems that those who have criticized this particular scene are merely nitpicking.

Climactic Prayer

In an article published in a 1957 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma, François Truffaut had compared The Wrong Man favorably to Bresson’s A Man Escaped (Un Condamné a Mort s’est échappé). He even went as far as to say that the film is probably his best film, the one that goes farthest in the direction he chose so long ago.” However, his opinion seems to have changed somewhat in the decade that followed. In his 1966 interview with Hitchcock, Truffaut suggested that the film suffered because “the esthetics of the documentary” was in conflict with Alfred Hitchcock’s signature subjective style. He uses the moment where the camera spins around Henry Fonda in his cell as an example. This seems an unfair statement, because the power of The Wrong Man comes from Hitchcock’s subjective treatment. The story certainly has a dramatic power on its own, but the subjective treatment makes the audience feel as if they have been personally violated in the same manner that Manny Balestrero was violated (and it does this without taking away from the film’s authenticity).

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s more annoying personal idiosyncrasies was his habit of adopting the prevailing critical opinion about his films. This certainly seems to be the case here. Since The Wrong Man wasn’t the giant hit he had become accustomed to, he deemed the film a failure and tried to remove himself from it as much as possible in interviews. After Truffaut’s criticism, he responded with the following:

“The industry was in a crisis at that time, and since I’d done a lot of work for Warner Brothers, I made this picture for them without taking any salary for my work. It was their property.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

It is true that the director made the film without taking a salary, but analytical minds must question whether Hitchcock did this purely out of kindness to the studio. After all, Warner Brothers owned the film rights to Balestrero’s story. It seems quite possible that Hitchcock’s decision could have stemmed from a sincere personal desire to adapt that property into a motion picture. It seems likely that Hitchcock is merely distancing himself from the film due to Truffaut’s negative commentary. There is a passage in Patrick McGilligan’s biography of the director that seems to support this theory:

“Warner’s was actually ambivalent about The Wrong Man until Hitchcock offered to waive his salary, an offer calculated to win him the go-ahead to make the picture. It’s hard to think of very many other directors in Hollywood history who have volunteered to work for free this way, at the peak of their success. Yet such a director was entirely in character for Hitchcock, who had often ignored money to make the films that interested him.” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

A Happy Family

The director had other complaints about the film in the years that followed the film’s release. The most notable of these concern the character of Rose Balestrero. Hitchcock claimed that he felt that Manny’s story collapsed when Rose’s mental faculties began to deteriorate, and he often cited this as one of the film’s weaknesses. On the contrary, Rose’s breakdown is what carries the story to the trial. It has the effect of keeping the audience with Manny, and it is one of the most interesting things about the film.

The most poignant scenes are those that concern Rose, and we never feel Manny’s pain more than when he is worried for his wife. A perfect example is a scene that seems to have been plucked from the Brean article:

“…There Balestrero confronted the man who more than anyone else was responsible for his 15 weeks of torment. Daniell was handcuffed to a chair. He looked up at Balestrero once and did not look again. There was a fleeting resemblance between the two men, particularly in the set and expression of their eyes. Balestrero asked, ‘Do you realize what you have done to my wife?’ Daniell did not answer.” –Herbert Brean (A Case of Identity, Life Magazine, June 29, 1953)

Let there be no mistake that these elements carry the audience through to the end of the film in a way that would have been nearly impossible to achieve otherwise. Frankly, this seems to be yet another scapegoat utilized to help Hitchcock distance himself from the film in the public’s mind. The root of this criticism probably stems from a number of reviews that suggested that Rose’s story was one of the film’s weaker elements. One such review was published in The Times:

“…In any event, the second half of the film, which sees Manny out on bail, hunting desperately for witnesses which will establish his alibi—while his wife, who is troubled with feelings of guilt, declines into apathy and eventually has to be sent to a mental institution, lacks the hypnotic fascination of the first.” –The Times (February 25, 1957)

It is simply another example of Hitchcock’s tendency to adopt critical opinion as his own. There isn’t any evidence that would suggest that Hitchcock walked onto the set feeling that this aspect of the script was deficient in any way. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary. The director had cast Vera Miles (who he had under personal contract) to play the role of Rose Balestrero, and he had spent a lot of time developing this aspect of the story.

On March 06, 1956, Alfred Hitchcock wrote the following to Maxwell Anderson:

“I have always personally felt (whether I am correct or not would be or you and Angus to say) that the scenes of the preparation of the defense should begin to be interrupted by an unexpected element, i.e. the decline of Rose, so that the mechanical details of alibis, etc. become obscured by this growing process o Rose going insane. So that by the time we reach the eve of the trial the drama of Rose has taken over.” –Alfred Hitchcock (as published in “Hitchcock and Adaptation: On the Page and Screen,” edited by Mark Osteen)

Not only did Alfred Hitchcock not mind that Rose’s story took over the narrative at this point, it was his intention that this happen. Without Rose’s breakdown, this part of the film would be rather dull. Hitchcock certainly realized this and added minor elements to the story to spice up the drama.

“…In this same letter, Hitchcock mentions another small but telling addition to the sequence in which the Balestreros hunt down witnesses who can testify that they were out of town during the first holdup. As the couple track down a witness by the name of La Marca, Hitchcock and MacPhail insert ‘two callous giggling teenagers’ announcing to Manny and Rose that the witness has died. Then the hapless Balestreros learn that a second witness, Mr. Molinelli, has also died. ‘There’s our alibi! Alibi! Oh, perfect! Complete!’ responds Rose. Anderson echoed Rose’s words, praising the insertion of the giggling girls and declaring that the scene was ‘beautifully handled.’ (Anderson to Hitchcock 03/17/56).” –Mark Osteen (Hitchcock and Adaptation)

Madness 2

A lot has been written about Hitchcock’s treatment of Vera Miles during the production of “The Wrong Man.” Miles always claimed that these things are untrue. “What he, Spoto, said about “The Wrong Man” and “Psycho” is all wrong. It’s the kind of book in which the author waits until a famous man dies, and then hits him with what can only be guesses… Anyone who knows me knows that I would never put up with that sort of thing. There was always a great deal of respect between Hitchcock and me. Spoto says that [Hitchcock] rehearsed me for nine hours a day on “The Wrong Man” which is nonsense. He expected people to be good, and never rehearsed them at all. When you signed a contract with Hitchcock, it stipulated the number of hours a day you would work. And as for playing casting couch to get the role, I’d have told him to go to hell. Neither of us had time for that sort of thing.” – Vera Miles

Hitchcock’s tendency to disregard films that do not meet with overwhelming success does his work a grave disservice. Critical opinion has a way of evolving, and Hitchcock’s dismissal of The Wrong Man has made this evolution rather difficult. When he told Truffaut to “file The Wrong Man among the indifferent Hitchcocks, he was giving future critics and scholars permission to do the same.

This is especially unfortunate considering that the unenthusiastic reviews that flooded newspapers, trade journals, and magazines upon the film’s release were colored by a rather narrow-minded expectation of what a Hitchcock film should be. The critics were conditioned to expect exciting films with a dose of macabre humor. The Wrong Man doesn’t deliver these elements. Instead, audiences experienced a deliberately paced emotional drama. The film’s sober tone was not what the critics wanted from Hitchcock. For example, a December 22, 1956 review published in Harrison’s reports complained that although Henry Fonda and Vera Miles were excellent in their roles, stories about human suffering are, as a general rule, depressing, and this one is no exception…”

A.H. Weiler was similarly disenchanted with the film:

“The theory that truth can be more striking than fiction is not too forcefully supported by the saga of The Wrong Man, which was unfolded at the Paramount on Saturday.

Although he is recounting in almost every clinical detail startling near-miscarriage of justice, Alfred 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…

…Mr. Hitchcock is not setting a precedent with The Wrong Man. Facts have provided fiction for many films before as in Let Us Live, in which Mr. Fonda also was starred. Mr. Hitchcock has done a fine and lucid job with the facts in The Wrong Man but they have been made more important than the hearts and dramas of the people they affect.”A.H. Weiler (New York Times, December 24, 1956)

This seems to be a rather unfair conclusion on Weiler’s part, but one must remember the sort of film he was expecting. One wonders why his contemporaries dismissed him for not telling realistic and socially relevant stories only to become disappointed when he gives them such a film (as he certainly did with The Wrong Man).

 Scholarly opinion hadn’t changed much when Robert A. Harris & Michael S. Lasky published a book of critical essays entitled, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock in 1976. Harris and Lasky seem to have taken a page from Alfred Hitchcock’s book, because they also singled out Rose’s story as the films primary weakness. It is worth questioning whether or not these men would have come to this conclusion had it not been one of Alfred Hitchcock’s repeated interview testimonies. Original ideas are rare (especially in film criticism). They were also quick to follow the lead of many critics that came before them in condemning Hitchcock’s climactic prayer scene.

The Wrong Man has a newsreel quality to it, with starkly lit black-and-white photography and real-life details that give it authenticity. When Hitchcock switches gears and no longer emphasizes Christopher Balestrero’s story, turning instead to his wife’s, he loses the audience’s interest. The intensity of the drama, horrifying because of its reality, diminishes because the chief focal point has been complicated with more details than the audience wants to consider

It is precisely because of this twist in the plot, the focusing on Rose’s mental breakdown that explains why Manny turns to prayer at the end. He prays for a miracle. With double exposure, he superimposes the holdup man’s face over Manny’s as he is praying. The documentary flavor of the film has been lost and religious motifs, harking back to I Confess, take over. The Kafkaesque nightmare of reality that Hitchcock has maintained has turned into a moralistic question.” –Robert A. Harris & Michael S. Lasky (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1976)

It is high time for the film community to re-evaluate this neglected film. If any other director had tackled the same material in the same manner, it would be considered a masterpiece of the genre. This is a bold statement about a bold film that deserves fresh analysis.

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 The Presentation:

 4 of 5 MacGuffins

The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork. This artwork seems to utilize vintage promotional material (though it isn’t the same artwork used for the film’s original one sheet).

The menu utilizes the same art that is on the cover, and it is accompanied by music from Bernard Herrmann’s score for the film.

Menu

There is absolutely no room for complaint about Warner’s presentation. Everything really looks quite fabulous!

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Black and white cinematography has the capacity to look truly incredible in high definition, and Warner Brothers has offered up a transfer that successfully demonstrates this. The image showcases a lot of fine detail with very nice contrast. The rich blacks do not crush detail, and there is a fully rendered range of greyscale between this and the white. This is a good thing, because much of the film takes place in darkness. There is a healthy layer of grain that betrays the film’s celluloid source, but many film buffs will see this as a good thing. It is certainly preferable to overzealous DNR. There doesn’t seem to be any distracting digital anomalies, but there is some hyperactive grain fluctuation on occasion. This is the single flaw in an otherwise lovely transfer.

Screenshot 2

 Sound Quality:

 4 of 5 MacGuffins

The English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is also quite nice, although many modern viewers might wish for a more robust soundtrack. Dialogue is consistently crisp and clear, and this is married with well rendered ambience and intelligible sound effects. This is important, because Alfred Hitchcock uses sound in very interesting ways. The sounds are realistic and draw viewers into the world of Manny Balestrero. It is nice to see that the sound transfer doesn’t interfere. Bernard Herrmann’s jazz-influenced score is given adequate room to breathe for a 2.0 mix, but there may be a few moments in the film that could use a bit more room. Overall, this is an excellent sound transfer for a film that was made in 1956.

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Special Features:

3 of 5 MacGuffins

Guilt Trip: Hitchcock and The Wrong Man – (SD) – 00:20:19

Laurent Bouzereau’s Guilt Trip isn’t comprehensive enough to qualify as a “making of” documentary, and this is somewhat disappointing when one compares it to the excellent documentaries that he prepared for Hitchcock’s Universal films. Paul Sylbert (the film’s art director) offers viewers a minimal amount of general information, but this information is always quite interesting. Bouzereau expands on this information by utilizing interviews with Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Schickel, Robert Osborne, and Richard Franklin. These gentlemen offer their general thoughts and feelings about the film, and this adds small doses of insight to the proceedings. This is certainly superior to the usual EPK nonsense that appears on most Blu-rays. Hitchcock fans should be happy that it has been carried over from the 2004 DVD release.

Theatrical Trailer  – 00:02:35

The theatrical trailer for The Wrong Man is narrated by Alfred Hitchcock himself (as many trailers for his later films would be). It is certainly more interesting than many trailers, and it is wonderful to have it included on this disc.

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Final Words:

The Wrong Man is a seriously underrated gem that deserves to be studied and discussed. This new Blu-ray edition of the film is the best way that fans can see this film on any home video format, and it comes highly recommended.

Review by: Devon Powell

Epilogue
SOURCE MATERIAL:

Herbert Brean (A Case of Identity, Life Magazine, June 29, 1953)

Unknown Author (Balestrero’s Nightmare, Life Magazine, February 01, 1954)

Unknown Author (The Wrong Man, Harrison’s Reports, December 22, 1956)

Unknown Author (Hitchcock and A New Form of Film Suspense, The Times, February 25, 1957)

A.H. Weiler (New Format for Hitchcock, New York Times, December 24, 1956)

François Truffaut (Cahiers du Cinéma, 1957)

François Truffaut (Hitchcock/Truffaut, 1966)

Robert A. Harris & Michael S. Lasky (The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1976)

John Russell Taylor (Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock, 1978)

Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

Mark Osteen (Hitchcock and Adaptation, 2014)