Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cezanne takes a turn in The Wrong Man

House of the Hanged Man, Paul Cézanne.

Kudos to art expert Chris Fletcher, who recently pointed out that a print of Paul Cézanne's Impressionist masterpiece, House of the Hanged Man (1873), appears in The Wrong Man (1956). Alfred Hitchcock always took care (or thusly encouraged his designers) to include relevant art on the walls of his film sets. I can imagine him buttonholing set decorator William L. Kuehl to find artwork suitable to the themes present in The Wrong Man. In any event, the presence of such a well-known painting, with such a thematically suitable title can hardly be the work of chance.

Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) discusses his wife's descent into a "landslide of fear and guilt" with Dr. Bannay, played by Werner Klemperer, later of campy Colonel Klink fame in Hogan's Heroes. In this role, however, he uses his German accent to compassionate effect.

And how fitting it is. We've been watching Rose Balestrero's (Vera Miles') emotional collapse as if in slow motion as she and Manny travel about in their fruitless search for witnesses who can establish his innocence. Although her husband, Manny, has been wrongly accused of a series of robberies, the injustice exacts a heavy toll from her and she begins to imagine that she is somehow responsible for the unsolved crimes. On his lawyer's recommendation, Manny takes Rose to see a doctor.

Strikingly beautiful and a first-rate actress, Vera Miles had originally been tapped by Hitch to take on the role of Judy/Madeleine in Vertigo. In The Wrong Man, however, her character is wan, dowdy and psychologically hopeless, as her "confession scene" at the doctor's office shows.

Says Rose to the doctor: "When my husband was arrested, I knew I'd let them down.... [The police] wanted to punish me because I'd failed him and let them down and did everything all wrong.... They knew he wasn't guilty. They knew I was guilty. They were after me. They were after me and they'll get me."

Dr. Bannay pronounces upon her what we already know to be true, namely, that "her mind is an eclipse... as if on the dark side of the moon." Standing in front of the Cezanne above, he says to Manny, "She's buried under some kind of landslide of fear and guilt." Her psyche, as in the painting, had become, as it were, a house of a hanged woman.

Though Cezanne's house's dark windows and bare tree hint at the psychological barenness within, the painting is otherwise warm and inviting, providing an ironic counterpoint to the doctor's observation that Rose lives in "a frightening landscape" and should be committed to that most euphemized of institutions -- "a home."* He says that "it must be chosen with care and it must give her a tranquil surrounding."

Situated on the outskirts of town on a curving drive, the austere walls and bare trees of the sanitarium that Manny has "chosen with care" bears comparison to House of the Hanged Man.

When you stop to think about its macabre subject,
House of the Hanged Man hardly fits in with what should be the cheerier decor of a medical office. Unless, of course, the doctor is Hitchcock.

*Speaking of euphemisms, four years after The Wrong Man came out, this exchange occurred between Marion Crane and Norman Bates:

MARION: Wouldn't it be better--if you put her--someplace--?

NORMAN: You mean an institution? A madhouse! People always call a madhouse 'someplace,' don't they. 'Put her in--someplace.'

MARION: I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean it to sound uncaring.

NORMAN: What do you know about caring. Have you ever seen the inside of one of those places? The laughing and the tears -- and the cruel eyes studying you.

Print this post


MrJeffery said...

This is fabulous. Thank you for this detail. I think 'The Wrong Man' is such an elegant film, one of Hitchcock's underrated.

somepeoplelikemovies said...

I cannot believe it's taken me this long to discover this blog. I, too, am a Hitchcock nut and I am more than excited to discover this! Thanks for the interesting posts, I'll be stopping back for sure.

Feel free to stop by my own blog at - I've written a few Hitchcock reviews including many of his old British films and I hope to be including more soon. Keep up the great work!

Joel Gunz said...

Hey Lauren, thanks for dropping by! We Hitchcock nuts need to stick together. (In fact, I cordially invite you to join the Alfred Hitchcock Geek page on Facebook. Lots of cool chats going on there.)

somepeoplelikemovies said...

I'll definitely check it out, thanks!

Robert J said...

I spent the better part of an hour reading your well done blog. Impressive.

Like you, I think Hitchcock is a genius and as a sometime photographer I have always been blown away by his visual sense.

I am curious how or where you get the movies pics?

Well done, I will be stopping by. All the best.

Joel Gunz said...

Hi Robert, I pull most of them from the "1000 Frames of Hitchcock" Wiki:

Dave Pattern has done an amazing job, and deserves more thanks than he gets.