It does not take two minutes to come up with 10 or 20 favorite — or least favorite — Christmas movies. Hallmark Channel aside, there are many worthy Christmas films for all ages to be revisited like old friends every year. 

Like Advent, Lent is also a purple season, but unlike Advent, it has been able to thwart off attempts to lighten the mood, and that is just not good “box office.” The way of the cross is not conducive to light opera. 

But I have found what I believe is a perfect Lenten movie.

“The Wrong Man” is not one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous films. It is decidedly dark not only in its cinematography but in its content. Unique from almost all of Hitchcock’s other work, “The Wrong Man” is devoid of lighter moments that usually allow the audience to breathe easier, as his protagonists are pursued by all manner of internal and external threats.

Many of Hitchcock’s films, even those with mayhem as their primordial themes, almost come off as comedies. Cary Grant is chased by cold-blooded killer spies in “North by Northwest,” but he is Cary Grant after all, and he remains witty and charming as he bobs and weaves through one life-threatening adventure to the next. Even “Psycho,” not exactly a laugh-fest, winks and nods every now and then through the lens of the maniac title character. 

“The Wrong Man” is different. I first saw this movie in a film class. I was disappointed. I was expecting the Hitchcock flare for the absurd. What I got was a grim, realistic, and depressing insight into a man’s personal Via Dolorosa.

Henry Fonda plays a struggling, underemployed musician in New York. He and his wife, played by Vera Miles, have money woes. We can see the wife is already struggling with stress and depression before things take a terrible turn for the worse. To alleviate some of that stress, Fonda’s character visits an insurance agency to borrow against a policy where he is mistaken for a man who robbed the establishment. Not exactly the excitement of Cary Grant dangling from George Washington’s nose on Mount Rushmore, or the shower scene in “Psycho.”

As I have grown older, and hopefully just a little wiser, I have come to appreciate “The Wrong Man” for the powerful statement on suffering that it is. 

It is the perfect Lenten movie. An innocent man is accused of something he did not do. Sounds pretty “seasonal” so far. His mother stands by him. His wife, like somebody else’s disciples, abandons him. She does this not as intentionally as most of the apostles did, who overwhelmingly voted with their feet as they fled from the Garden of Gethsemane. No, Vera Miles’ character is swallowed up by clinical depression and is thus rendered “missing” just when Henry Fonda’s situation is in most need of support.

The police and the legal system are just doing their job — just like the Roman soldiers were doing theirs. The authorities do everything by the book, just as 2,000 years ago the Sanhedrin and Roman governor dotted and crossed all requisite Is and Ts.  

Henry Fonda has no advocate. He is a man alone, just like Jesus when he was standing before his accusers. Nowhere in this film is Fonda’s character more Christlike on what Good Friday must have felt like for our Savior than when he is placed inside a steel cage and the door is slammed shut.  

This movie, made in the middle of the last century, still resonates with a modern realism rarely attempted by Hitchcock. The director was always more interested in how everyday characters responded to extraordinary events in their lives. But the realism of a man living uncertain paycheck to uncertain paycheck, with a wife already struggling with their poverty, looks more like a present day Oscar contender. I can certainly see an actor like Joaquin Phoenix playing the same role Henry Fonda plays.

Hitchcock’s most overtly Catholic film, “I Confess,” may have a priest as protagonist, but the sacrament of confession is treated more like a mechanism to generate the plot. In “The Wrong Man” we see the deep spiritual consequences of suffering that comes to all of us, and for that reason alone, I think this movie speaks to so much of what Lent is about. 

The film does not have a typical Hollywood ending where everything works out in the end. Fonda’s character is exonerated, but the damage has been done to his family, and that damage lingers. 

Fortunately for us, the real Via Dolorosa was not a “dead end” street, but led to an open tomb and a never-ending story.