#275) 12 Angry Men (1957)

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#275) 12 Angry Men (1957)

OR “The Jury Dozen”

Directed by Sidney Lumet

Written by Reginald Rose. Based on his teleplay.

Class of 2007

The Plot: An 18-year-old slum kid (John Savoca) is on trial for the murder of his father, and a verdict of guilty will lead to the boy’s execution. In the jury room, 11 of the men are ready to vote guilty, but one dissenting juror (Henry Fonda) has a reasonable doubt that the boy committed the crime. The 12 go over every detail of the case, from recounting witness testimonies to examining evidence, and slowly other jurors start changing their votes to “not guilty”. Will #8 convince the others that there is a reasonable doubt, or will #3 (Lee J. Cobb) keep everyone in line with his prejudiced “one of them” viewpoint?

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “a classic” and suggests it can be viewed as “commentary on McCarthyism, Fascism or Communism.” There’s also an essay by Sidney Lumet expert Joanna E. Rapf.

But Does It Really?: “12 Angry Men” is definitive proof that a great movie can be made out of people in a room talking for 90 minutes. Sidney Lumet’s execution of this film is flawless, as is the finest ensemble of actors in any one movie. “12 Angry Men” is the rare movie that highlights our judicial system without either over-praising or condemning it. The jury process is flawed, but the power falls on the people, and the responsibility should not be taken lightly. “12 Angry Men” is one of my favorite movies and only gets better with age.

Shout Outs: No direct references, but Juror #7 does whistle the Laurel & Hardy “Dance of the Cuckoos” theme at one point.

Everybody Gets One: Writer Reginald Rose, jurors Ed Begley (Sr.), Jack Klugman**, E.G. Marshall, George Voskovec, and Robert Webber.

Wow, That’s Dated: The crime hinges on such dated things as double features and New York’s elevated trains.

Seriously, Oscars?: “12 Angry Men” was a critical hit, but United Artists didn’t give the film a proper release, and it suffered financially. The film did, however, manage three Oscar nominations: Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, but lost all three to “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. How Fonda and Cobb weren’t nominated for their performances is just unforgivable.

Other notes

  • You do not need to watch the original “Studio One” teleplay of “Twelve Angry Men”. The film delves into the characters and their motivations on a much deeper level than the TV version, which lacks overall energy. Being shot for live TV, the teleplay also suffers from actors flubbing their lines and the occasional camera gaffe. That being said, the side-by-side comparison is an intriguing reminder of a time when film and TV were two distinctly separate media.
  • The line “The alternate jurors are excused” unexpectedly tickled me. I just enjoy the notion that these two extras were so close to being in a classic movie.
  • Juror #2 is John Fiedler, aka the original voice of Piglet. Now you know why he sounds so familiar.
  • “You can’t dispute facts”. That’s not just a quote, it’s a reminder.
  • This film is easily one of the most impressive directorial debuts. Lumet knows exactly what he wants and he knows how to get it from everyone. Every aspect of the film is expertly crafted, from the cinematography to the editing. I recommend reading Lumet’s book “Making Movies” to learn about the specific way “12 Angry Men” was shot (plus insight on his dislike of teamsters).
  • The close-ups of #9 staring directly into the camera are a bit unsettling. Did Jonathan Demme direct those shots?
  • Everyone’s great, but George Voskovec as #11 is the unsung hero. The “guilty” voters are the flashier parts, but the subtlety Voskovec brings to his character is brilliant.
  • It’s comforting to know that even film greats like Henry Fonda and Martin Balsam sweat in the summer heat.
  • “The Remarkable Mrs.….” Maisel?
  • Speaking of, that plot point always bothered me. Jurors are swayed because #4 can’t remember details from four nights ago. That’s very different from the kid not remembering where he was two hours ago, “emotional stress” or not. But whatever Fonda, you made your point.
  • Jack Klugman is many things, but a street tough is not one of them.
  • The most impressive shot in the whole film is one long take that contains two monologues: #10’s racist rant, and #8’s “prejudice always obscures the truth” speech. Kudos to everyone involved.
  • I always laugh at E.G. Marshall’s maybe-too-serious reading of the line “No one wears eye glasses to bed.”
  • It’s really hard to single out any one actor in this film; they’re all so great. But Lee J. Cobb might clinch it with his final monologue. It’s so emotionally raw, I found myself actually tearing up as #3 finally recognizes his prejudice. Cobb made me see the tragic figure inside Juror #3, not surprising considering Cobb played THE tragic figure: Willy Loman.
  • I’ll argue that this film doesn’t need that last shot. You could just fade to black after they exit the jury room. The awkward exchange between #8 and #9 on the steps takes away from the anonymity of the courtroom.
  • The only juror I haven’t mentioned yet is #6, played by Edward Binns. He’s great too!

Legacy

  • “12 Angry Men” launched the 50-year directing run of Sidney Lumet.
  • You have watched “12 Angry Men” either as a team-building exercise, a dissection of conflict resolution, or a lesson in critical thinking.
  • “12 Angry Men” returned to television in 1997 with an update directed by William Friedkin, starring Jack Lemmon as #8 and George C. Scott fulfilling his destiny as his generation’s Lee J. Cobb.
  • Speaking of remakes, practically every country has made their own version. Among them, the 2007 Russian movie “12”, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
  • Your community theater is doing a production of “12 Angry Jurors” right now, because they’re the first ones to recognize how relevant it still is.
  • Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has cited “12 Angry Men” as influencing her decision to study law. By comparison, Brett Kavanaugh was inspired to study law after a viewing of “Animal House”. But seriously, fuck that guy.
  • Every sitcom has done a “12 Angry Men” spoof, but will anything ever top “Inside Amy Schumer”?

Further Viewing: Did you know that Rob Reiner does an impression of Lee J. Cobb’s performance in this film? Well now you do, Meathead.

** 2018 Update: Jack Klugman now also has “Days of Wine and Roses” on the list. Way to go Quincy!

6 thoughts on “#275) 12 Angry Men (1957)”

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