Movie justice is often singled out as being simpler than real life. Bad guys go to jail, good guys get the girl, really, really bad guys fall from great heights. But, as in life, the system has some flaws. One of those flaws is that innocent people sometimes go to jail. Here are six movie prisoners who were wrongly convicted.
One of director Alfred Hitchcock‘s pet themes is the wrongly convicted man. But he never treated the subject with as much gravitas and seriousness as he does in “The Wrong Man,” a film starring Henry Fonda as a working lower-class man who is mistakenly identified as a robber of an insurance office. The legal system doesn’t have as much sympathy as the audience does, and Fonda ends up serving time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
In”I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, Paul Muni plays a poor guy who just wants a cheeseburger, and ends up getting unwittingly involved in a robbery of a diner The thing is, though, even if he HAD been guilty of robbing a restaurant, the sentence of a brutal Southern chain gang would be pretty steep. The conditions are terrible, the work brutal, and the jailers abusive and sadistic. He manages to escape, and like the title says, becomes a fugitive from a chain gang. He ends up doing pretty well for himself until his jailers catch up with him, and it’s back to the chain gang for him. This movie is one of the reasons the cruel practice of chain gangs was eventually outlawed, in addition to being a thrilling and heartbreaking drama.
Dr. Richard Kimble
Played by Harrison Ford in “The Fugitive”, Dr. Kimble did not kill his wife. All the evidence seems to point to him as the guilty party, but he claims that it was a one-armed man who intruded into his home and smashed his wife’s skull. Luckily for him, his prison transport bus crashes on the way to Death Row, so he has the opportunity to go on the run and clear his name. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a one-armed man, right? Most people have two arms.
From ”The Shawshank Redemption“, Andy Dufresne is another guy who seems to have killed his wife. He didn’t, but the jury isn’t inclined to believe him when he says so. So he ends up serving a life sentence alongside wise old guy Morgan Freeman. As the title says, he ends up finding a peculiar kind of redemption during his time in the Big House, although it’s still likely he wishes he hadn’t had to spend all that time in prison to get it.
You don’t always have to go to prison to be wrongly convicted. Take Angelina Jolie in “Changeling,” whose only crime was wanting to find her son after he was kidnapped. The authorities told her that her son was back, but she knew the boy they were handing her was not her son. She ends up getting committed to a mental asylum for her trouble, which by many accounts can be just as bad as prison. The more you protest that you’re not crazy, the crazier you seem—that’s an especially frustrating form of wrongful imprisonment.
Not everybody who gets wrongly convicted was a saint before they went to prison. Sometimes, it’s a person’s criminal past that leads to their imprisonment in the first place. So it is with Sam Rockwell in “Conviction,” based on a real case. He gets locked up for murder, but his sister never believes that he’s guilty. She goes to law school, passes the bar and eventually gets her brother out of jail, but not before he served eighteen years in prison.