If you ever are tempted to commit a crime, watch this. I say this, because this British mini-series is, I would say, the strongest piece of material I’ve ever seen or heard of that covers each aspect of the criminal justice system…from police station to trial. But, the accused here, Ben Coulter, does NOT commit a crime. He, which you know from the beginning so I’m not ruining anything, is an innocent victim. Yes, he had a one-night-stand with a strange lady he had just met. Yes, he drank WAY too much. And yes, passed out in her kitchen after having consensual sex with her. After he wakes up and finds her stabbed to death, he panics and flees the scene, has a car accident, where the police are called and eventually find out Ben was the one in the dead girls’ house. We (the audience) know he did not do this. But, the police, lawyers, judges, fellow inmates, and even his parents are not so sure. The evidence is overwhelming. The coincidences are just too insurmountable. He just HAD to have done it, right? Well, step-by-step, each of the pieces is chipped away as the wheels of Lady Justice roll on. Even though the story is set in England, the same principles apply…justice, for all its merits, moves slowly and is not above imperfection.

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The “wrong man” (or “wronged”) man has always been a running theme in Alfred Hitchcock’s films. From 1935’s classic The 39 Steps right up to Frenzy in 1972, Hitchcock had been thrilling audiences as they follow along a story about a man accused of something he didn’t do. In 1956, Hitchcock made the ultimate “wronged man” movie…giving it a very appropriate title and look. The look was that of a documentary…black and white (but that was still pretty common in the mid-50s), dark, humorless (which none of Hitchcock’s prior films had been), cameo-less (no Hitchcock peeking around a corner in this one), and lacking the fast-pacing of most of Hitchcock’s films up to that point. The director chooses everyman Henry Fonda to play his hero—the “wrong man—this time around. Fonda is perfect in this role since he’s adapt at morphing into any type of persona. Cary Grant, a Hitchcock regular, would have been way to sleek for this role. Jimmy Stewart, even, would have lacked the ability to enter the character with his tall, imposing stance. Fonda has the right look and build to play someone that just might look like the other guy…someone who is the ideal husband and father but could also look slightly sinister in the right light. The film starts off by showing Fonda’s routine…work as a musician in a nightclub until early morning then home where wife (also perfectly played by Vera Miles) is already sleeping…discussion with wife about money problems in morning…etc. Once Fonda finds himself in a mistaken identity mess when he is spotted in an insurance office as a former robber and arrested, Hitchcock mixes the plot with quite a bit of police procedures which offer insight into not only what criminals go through but also how law enforcement officers handle the daily grind. If you want to watch the quintessential Hitchcock film, rent North by Northwest, another “wronged” man film and much more typical of The Master of Suspense’s technique. If you want to watch a good film where Hitchcock experimented with the art of cinema and his own style, watch this one!

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Being a big Hitchcock fan always puts me in a tight place when people ask me about my favorite film. Of course, it would be a Hitchcock film, but which one? When the pressure heats up and I am cornered, I would confess that this film would have to fit the bill of not only my favorite film, but also, more importantly, my favorite Hitchcock film. The reasons? Well, it has every quality that Hitchcock is famous for. It has the comic element. It has the mistaken identity element. It has the “wronged” man element. It has what is commonly known in Hitchcock circles as the MacGuffin (some aspect of the plot that is totally irrelevant but succeeds in distracting the attention of the audience). And, it has romance. Basically, this is the film Hitchcock has been working up to his entire career. And, boy does it show. The performances showcase some of the finest work Hitchcock has ever filmed, especially “wronged” man Cary Grant, never looking more debonair, even when he’s running from crop-dusting planes in a suit and tie. This was Grant’s fourth film with Hitchcock and the two have never worked better together. My VERY close runner-up for best Hitchcock film would be another Grant movie, Notorious, from 1946. Even though Grant is near perfect in that earlier film, he simply radiates perfection in this movie. His comic timing, facial expressions, tone of voice, and mannerisms are all seamless. So, if you want to see a great movie, rent any Hitchcock film. If you want to see the best of Grant and Hitchcock, rent this one!
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