12 Angry Men (1957)
Days to Go: 363
Films to Go: 148
Have I seen it before? – No (but have seen the 1997 TV remake)
IMDB rating: 8.9 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
My rating: 10 out of 10
Next films I’ll be watching:
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – link is to my post about that film
The African Queen (1951)
All the President’s Men (1976)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
See THE LIST here.
Friendly reminder: These discussions of films in the ‘Year of Classic Films Challenge’ may contain some minor spoilers. I will still try to keep it to a minimum and hopefully only those who have seen the movie will know what I’m referring to. However, there may be some discussion of plot and such.
12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Angry Men rates a 10 out of 10 on my scale. Here we have a film that I think few would argue deserves the title of ‘classic.’ Henry Fonda leads a cast of super talented actors in a courtroom drama that doesn’t even take place in a courtroom! Due to the powerful performances and the stellar writing, the audience is given all the information of a murder case in the simple setting of a jury deliberation room. Truly unique. Truly great.
First, the reasons I gave it a 10. I love the fact that this film gets right to the jury deliberation room. The dialogue fills in all the blanks of the murder trial with the filmmakers only showing us a single courtroom scene after the trial had finished. By the end of the film you really do feel like you were in the court with the jurors and got all the same information they did. Despite several jurors being strong proponents of the guilty verdict, with their skewed opinions of the facts, you do end up getting all the facts straight and nothing remains confusing by the time the credits roll.
Older films such as this had a lot more long monologues and continuous shots than modern films do today. I often wonder if modern actors could even handle making films 40-50 years ago when they had to memorize long pieces of dialogue and do them in a single shot. It really goes to show you how talented these performers were back then. 12 Angry Men is a perfect example of this and the talented cast puts on a clinic for all other actors to come.
I also really like subtle aspects in a film that play a big part. In this case, the heat in the deliberation room is really like another character in the film. It really changed how the people acted and how quickly they got angry because they were also really hot.
It was also really great to see the reaction of the other jurors when Juror #10 (Ed Begley) went off on a prejudice rant. They simple got up, walked a few steps away, turned their back to him and ignored him until he quieted down. How much better would this world be if we all just ignored ignorant people until they realized they had no audience and shut up? As Fonda’s character said, “Prejudice always obscures the truth.” Powerful stuff.
These are some questions and observations meant to spark discussion about the film. If you have not seen it, you may want to stop reading if you don’t want to read any spoilers.
12 Angry Men is shot almost entirely in one room. There are not a lot of great films shot in a single location (or at least mostly in one location). A couple of others that I can think of off the top of my head are Phone Booth and Panic Room. Then there are films that have just one or a couple of characters like Cast Away and Moon. What are your favorite films with a single location or single character?
One of the best performances in the film was given by Lee J. Cobb (Juror #3). He was the last one to change his verdict to not guilty. How many times in life are you so certain you are right that even when concrete proof is given to the contrary, you still hold your ground? Cobb did a terrific job with this and you can’t help but look at your own life and wonder how many times you were in those shoes.
Near the beginning of the film, while Henry Fonda was still the only one to say ‘not guilty,’ he proposes an ultimatum: the other 11 take another vote and if they all still agree that the defendant is guilty, Fonda will change his vote. This was one of the only things that surprised me in the film. Fonda seemed like he doubted the guilt quite a lot, but yet was willing to compromise. It was quite a gamble. Do you think he made the right call there? Or, was he, maybe, giving in a little and compromising his beliefs and principles?
Do you think this film sheds some light on the jury process? Do you think there may be quite a few juries that jump to conclusions? Clearly, even when an incompetent or apathetic lawyer is involved a jury can still figure things out on their own. Does this film make you think twice about the legal system? Even if it’s flawed, is it still one of the best systems in the world? How could we make it better?
Feel free to ask your own questions or leave your own thoughts beyond these talking points in the Comments Section below.
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