Alfred Hitchcock, George Rouault and the Curious Case of The Wrong Man

“It’s nothing for an innocent man to worry about. It’s the fella that’s done something wrong that has to worry.” So say the police who spend the night interrogating Manny Balastrero. He finds that advice to be cold comfort as the jail doors clang shut behind him, an innocent man if there ever was one.
Aside from an introductory prologue, Hitchcock forewent his usual cameo appearance in The Wrong Man, though he did manage to sneak into some of the movie’s posters and lobby cards. (This was from a scene that was filmed, but later cut.)

There’s a little bit of Catholicism in most of Hitch’s films

Even if at times it isn’t much more than an Ash Wednesday smudge. As such, it’s easy to say that he belonged to the 20th century’s small handful of Catholic modern artists — a very short list that also included Graham Greene (with whom he’d tried to work) and Expressionist French painter Georges Rouault. Hitch deeply appreciated the painter, once telling his friend and biographer Charlotte Chandler that he considered it a privilege to be able to afford a Rouault, which occupied pride of place in the foyer of Hitchcock’s Bel-Air road home.

Rouault produced several versions of La Suaire. According to biographer Patrick McGilligan, the version that Hitch owned “depicts the face of the Redeemer as imprinted in blood on Christ’s burial shroud.” Perhaps it resembled the one shown here, with its emphasis on Christ’s bloodied condition.
Every era has its classic portrait of Christ. This one by Rouault, simply called La Sainte Suaire (often translated The Holy Face, but more accurately translated The Holy Shroud—like the Shroud of Turin, this is the imprint of his face upon his burial cloths), may be, at least for Catholics, the definitive Christ painting of the 20th century. Here, Jesus faces his horror with open eyes and what Buddhists might call radical acceptance. Rouaultesque paintings occasionally pop up in his films as well, often for a laugh — and with a sour aftertaste.
Sam Marlowe’s portrait of the corpse of Harry Worp, in The Trouble with Harry.
Mrs. Anthony’s portrait of “St. Francis” in Strangers on a Train.
Jesus despised… from Rouault’s aquatint series, Miserere. According to scholar F. Agustoni, this set “was inspired by the suffering of human beings, which often can be without any reason for those who have to endure it, which makes it even more distressing” — an apt description of Manny Balastrero. Unlike Vertigo’s Scottie, Manny never asks “Why me?”
Numerous closeups of Manny capture him with downcast eyes, his face a silent, acquiescent mask — so like Rouault’s many depictions of Christ.

“He is perhaps existential; his world is that of suffering and melancholy. … Rarely if ever does [he escape] into a really savage renunciation of self and world — and yet it speaks with a quiet despair of the human condition.”

To watch The Wrong Man, you’d think Joshua Kind was also talking about Hitchcock.

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Writer, filmmaker and Alfred Hitchcock geek.

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