The year was 1951 in the neighborhood of Jackson Heights in Queens, NY when a man named Christopher Emmanuel Ballestero was charged with armed robbery. The only problem was that he was the wrong man. Henry Fonda and Vera Miles star in this docu-drama that closely follows the real life events of this tragic case of mistaken identity. In fact Hitchcock’s patented cameo is especially distinct in this film, as he appears as a silhouette during the opening credits of the film, to talk directly into the camera to inform the audience that this is certainly a true story. The film is effective as it displays how quickly it can all unravel for someone once charged with a crime that they didn’t commit.
More than that it powerfully captures the effect this situation can have on family, as Ballestero’s wife in the film (as well as in real life) became distraught to the point that she was clinically depressed and admitted to a sanitorium. While the film is ultimately modest compared to a typical Hitchcock film, it is compelling from the standpoint of how it depicts real life in that way that really hits home. Fonda and Miles turn in very good performances despite falling short of being truly memorable. Nonetheless the story itself leaves a lasting impression, particularly the closing scene when we find out Ballestero’s wife didn’t recover even after his exoneration, and didn’t leave the hospital until two years later.