The Champ: THE WRONG MAN (NY)
One of Hitchcock’s lesser known films, WRONG MAN is based on the true story of Manny Balestrero, a musician whose simple life is shattered after a case of mistaken identity leads to his arrest. Several witnesses swear he’s the guy who pulled a series of hold ups around the neighborhood, and Balestrero must fight to prove his innocence while fighting to keep his family from being torn apart.
It’s not a flawless movie. As Hitchcock’s only foray into realistic, documentary style Noir, it does have some long dull stretches, like the endless courtroom stuff, but it also has some gorgeous, classic Hitchcock scenes as well, notably the claustrophobic prison sequences. The disintegration of Balestrero’s wife is brilliantly portrayed by lovely Vera Miles and Fonda himself is understated and perfect as the quiet everyman who just can’t get a break. There are also lots of great location shots around various neighborhoods in Queens, since much of the film was shot in and around the actual locations where the original events took place. It’s definitely worth seeing on the big screen.
The Challenger: SHOCKPROOF (LA)
This movie has even less to do with its title than 711 OCEAN DRIVE. It’s a great title for a film about a con who manages to beat the electric chair or a hooker so jaded that nothing phases her, but not so good for a story about a parole officer who falls for a female ex con. The original title was THE LOVERS, which is much more fitting. Leggy Patricia Knight plays a sexy ex con who did 5 years for murder to protect her no-good boyfriend. Once paroled, she and the boyfriend plan to sucker her handsome, saintly PO (Cornel Wilde) into secretly marrying her so they’ll be able to blackmail him and bend him to their will. (It’s illegal for parolees to get married and if discovered, he would lose his job.) Over the course of the game, Knight ends up falling for Wilde for real and eventually shooting the boyfriend. Instead of turning her in, Wilde decides to give up everything and go on the lam with Knight to save her from life in prison.
Directed by Douglas Sirk and originally penned by Sam Fuller, this is a movie that I hadn’t seen and was particularly looking forward to. For this round, I was joined by special celebrity guest judge Megan Abbott. Over post-movie cocktails at historic Boardner’s, we both agreed that it was a surprisingly close fight. WRONG MAN is really good, but occasionally bogged down by it’s own realism. SHOCKPROOF is corny and romantic at times still but had something that really hooked me and kept me guessing. In the end it went to a decision and underdog challenger SHOCKPROOF took the bout by a mere fraction of a point. Just make sure you close you eyes and plug your ears during the preposterous, tacked-on happy ending.
Tonight: THE PEOPLE VS O’HARA vs I LOVE TROUBLE.