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The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man(1957)


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As is his custom, Christopher Emanuel "Manny" Balestrero, a string bass player at New York City's Stork Club, returns home to Jackson Heights after the club closes just before dawn. His wife Rose is still awake, suffering from a toothache, and confides her anxiety about their inability to pay for having her tooth extracted. The couple, who are rearing two young boys, live frugally and have weathered their share of financial distresses. Remembering Rose's insurance policy, Manny suggests that they can borrow against it to pay for the procedure and plans to look into it when the office opens. Later, after promising to return at 5:30 to give music lessons to his sons, Manny visits his ailing father and then goes to the insurance company to see about the loan. Although he does not notice, the clerks become nervous in his presence and decide among themselves that he looks like the man who robbed them a month ago. The police, alerted by the insurance clerks, wait outside Manny's home and pick him up on his doorstep at 5:30. Without allowing him first to speak to his wife and without telling him why he is being taken into custody, they drive him to the station. There, after asking the bewildered Manny about his finances, the police conclude that he has a motive to steal money. They drive him to several stores that have been robbed in the past and ask the proprietors if he is the man who robbed them. When many of the victims express uncertainty about Manny being the thief, the police summon the insurance clerks to the station to identify him. To determine if his handwriting matches that of the robber, one of the detectives reads aloud a printed holdup note and asks Manny to print the words on a scrap of paper. Because Manny's printing is similar to the robber's, they ask him to print out a second sample. The second time, Manny, who has become increasingly frightened, misspells the word "drawer" as "draw," which, coincidentally, is the same way the robber spelled the word. Based on this mistake and the tentative word of the witnesses, Manny is booked on charges of assault and robbery, fingerprinted and put in a cell for the night. Meanwhile, Rose, whom Manny has never been allowed to contact, worries that he has been in an accident, as he has never been late without calling. By the time the police notify Rose, Manny's mother and sister and brother-in-law, Gene and Olga Conforti, are waiting with her. The next morning, Manny is taken to the felony court in a police wagon with suspects of other crimes. A trial date is set, but despite his appointed attorney's request for leniency, the judge sets the bail at $7,500 and Manny is taken to the Queens County jail. After the Confortis manage to raise the money for Manny's bail, Rose calls lawyer Frank D. O'Connor, who has been recommended to Manny's mother. Although O'Connor warns that he has little experience with criminal cases, he takes the case, and urges Manny to recall where he was on the dates of the alleged robberies. On the date of the first robbery, the Balestreros recall that they were on vacation at a resort in Cornwall, New York, and at the time in question, Manny was playing cards with three other vacationers. Rose and Manny try to track down the three men, whose names they get from the resort owners, but one, a boxer, is never found and the two other men have died. Manny remembers that at the time of the second robbery he was suffering from a toothache, and his dentist confirms that his jaw was so swollen that dental work had to be postponed. O'Connor believes this might provide an alibi in court, as none of the witnesses reported that the robber had a swollen jaw. Rose becomes increasingly depressed, and begins to blame herself for Manny's problems, illogically concluding that it was because of her that Manny went to the insurance office to ask for a loan. When her behavior deteriorates into paranoia, Manny takes her to a doctor, who admits her to a sanitarium in Ossining. As Manny's trial begins, the witnesses are called to the stand to identify Manny as the robber. During cross-examination, one of the jurors, who has already made up his mind about the case, asks the judge if they "have to sit and listen to this?" After a brief conference with O'Connor and the district attorney, the judge calls a mistrial, and O'Connor tells Manny that they will have to start over. Afterward, at home, Manny talks to his mother, who is taking care of the boys during Rose's absence, about his feeling of despair and she advises him to pray. Soon after, a man holds up a delicatessen. The owner signals to her husband, who approaches the robber from behind and holds him, while she phones the police. The robber is arrested and brought into the police station, where, in the hallway, he passes a detective working on Manny's case. Although the robber makes no initial impression on the detective, his resemblance to Manny soon strikes the latter, who follows up his hunch. Later, while performing at the Stork Club, Manny is summoned to the 110th precinct police station. When Manny arrives, the insurance clerks are there confirming that the robber is the same person who held them up. After identifying the correct man, they cannot meet Manny's eyes as they leave. The charges against Manny are dropped, but when he goes to Ossining to tell Rose, she is unresponsive.