(Sir) Alfred Hitchcock Penelope Houston - Essay

Penelope Houston

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A good deal of Alfred Hitchcock's interest in film-making seems these days to consist in setting himself technical problems for the satisfaction of overcoming them….

In The Wrong Man … Hitchcock has filmed his first true story, a precise and documented account of a case of mistaken identity. The problem here is to achieve a particular atmosphere of factual suspense, a spider's web entanglement of circumstantial detail enmeshing the bewildered and passive victim….

After [a] gripping and splendidly circumstantial opening, the film's extreme slowness becomes an increasing dramatic liability…. The dramatic thread [breaks] somewhere in the middle of the film, and Hitchcock can no longer effectively tighten the screw of suspense.

In some of [the] later scenes, one even begins to wonder whether Hitchcock has not come slightly under the spell of those French intellectual critics who are always reading deeply symbolic interpretations into his work, finding a fatal mystical fascination in I Confess or Under Capricorn. The master has given them some additional ammunition here.

It is action that the second half of The Wrong Man lacks and with this director nothing else ever seems entirely to work.

Penelope Houston, "Film Reviews: 'The Wrong Man'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1957 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 26, No. 4, Spring, 1957, p. 211.