Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Joseph Sweeney, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden etc.
12 Angry Men was first conceived as a tv film before being adapted for stage by Reginald Rose in 1954. I first saw the storyline of 12 Angry Men being acted out on the London stage early last year; with the first London production of the play being performed at the Garrick theatre with a cast that starred Tom Conti (as seen below). The strength of the production spurred me on to hastily buy a bluray version of the classic film, which has the legendary Henry Fonda in the Juror 8 role.
The premise for 12 Angry Men is simple yet intriguing. 12 men have been selected as the jury for a patricide trial; where the accused is an 18 year old boy from the slums of New York. The jury must reach a unanimous verdict, and if they find the boy guilty then he will be sentenced to death. After entering the boiling hot and stuffy jury room, the twelve men take a preliminary vote in what they believe to be an open and shut case. Eleven men vote for the boy to die, yet one (Henry Fonda) votes not guilty. The next hour and a half is film history, as the twelve men debate over the evidence that they have seen in the trial, and try to decide whether or not the accused is guilty or not guilty. I think there is great irony in the best courtroom drama of all time not actually taking place in the courtroom.
The cast is filled with an outstanding ensemble of character actors; the highlights being Jack Warden’s humorous baseball fan, E.G. Marshall’s unflappable and factual bank worker and Lee J. Cobb’s loudly opinionated father. The film works because of how intense the situation is. All but around three minutes of footage was shot inside the jury room, and the set becomes more claustrophobic as the film goes on. This film is enigmatic in its approach as each detail of the trial is slowly revealed, and we slowly find out a little bit more about each of the characters.
There are some amazing moments: such as the one pictured above where an incredibly prejudiced man tries to persuade his fellow jury members that ‘they are all the same!’ while the story continues to grip at you even after you’ve seen it on multiple occasions. It seems to debate the meaning of justice, and inspires the idea of ordinary heroism. Henry Fonda’s Juror 8 was named as the 28th greatest hero in movie history by the American Film Institute in 2003. While the film received critical acclaim upon its release, and is now hailed as a classic. It was overshadowed by the (utterly outstanding) epic that was The Bridge on the River Kwai, which beat it at the Oscars for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. 12 Angry Men received no other nominations, though I would argue that Henry Fonda’s performance deserved such recognition. However, 12 Angry Men is successful because of its ensemble nature. Juror 8 seems to fade away for portions of the film, allowing other characters to take charge and have their moments. The only disappointment is that the film does pale in comparison to the play, as I don’t like the short additions which take place outside of the jury room. I don’t like the fact that we see the accused boy at the beginning of the trial, and I’m also not a fan of Joseph Sweeney’s performance as Juror number 9. Nonetheless, this is a film that is as relevant today as it was in 1957; and will probably remain relevant for many years to come. And, since 1957, it is certain that no film has come close to matching the gripping yet simple nature of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men.
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Coming up next time: a highly underrated, but surprisingly influential animation film that was the first onscreen adaptation of one of the most successful books of all time.