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12 Angry Men

October 22, 2010

315. 12 Angry Men
Directed by Sidney Lumet
USA, 1957
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing

Synopsis:

Twelve jurors have to decide whether an eighteen-year-old Latino boy is innocent or guilty of killing his father. If he is found guilty, he faces the electric chair. When they first enter the room, Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) is the only one who feels the boy may be innocent, and wants a review of the facts before a definite decision is made. The holes in the case are revealed through argument and discussion, and the presumptions and prejudices of the men are exposed as they try to move towards a unanimous verdict.

Essential Scene:

Juror #10 (Ed Begley) gets angry at the jury’s current leanings regarding the verdict.

Juror #10: I don’t understand you people! I mean, all these picky little points you keep bringing up, they don’t mean nothing! You saw this kid just like I did. You’re not gonna tell me you believe that phoney story about losing the knife and that business about being at the movies? Look, you know how these people lie. It’s born in them. I mean, what the heck, I don’t have to tell you. They don’t know what the truth is! And let me tell ya, they don’t need any real big reason to kill someone, either. No sir. They get drunk. They’re real big drinkers, all of ‘em.

Juror #5 (Jack Klugman) stands up, walks to the other side of the room and faces the wall.

Juror #10: You know that! And bang, someone’s lyin’ in the gutter! Nobody’s blaming them, that’s the way they are by nature. You know what I mean? Violent!

Juror #9 (Joseph Sweeney) leaves the table.

Juror #10: Where are you going? Human life don’t mean as much to them as it does to us.

Juror #11 (George Voskovec) leaves the table.

Juror #10: Look… They’re lushing it up and fighting all the time, and if somebody gets killed, somebody gets killed! They don’t care! Sure there’s some good things about ‘em, too. Look, I’m the first one to say that.

Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) leaves the table.

Juror #10: I’ve known a couple who are OK but that’s the exception, you know what I mean? Most of ‘em, it’s like they have no feelings! They can do anything!

Juror #2 (John Fiedler) leaves the table. Juror #6 (Edward Binns) leaves the table immediately afterwards.

Juror #10: What’s going on here? I’m trying to tell you, you’re making a big mistake, you people. This kid is a liar, I know it. I know all about them.

Juror #1 (Martin Balsam) leaves the table.

Juror #10: Listen to me. They’re no good. There’s not a one of ‘em who’s any good. I mean… what’s happening in here? I speak my piece and you…

Juror #12 (Robert Webber) leaves the table. Most men are now standing with their backs to the table.

Juror #10: [Quieter, with less confidence] Listen to me… I… we’re, we’re… This kid on trial here. His type. Well, don’t you know about them? There’s a… there’s a danger here. These people are dangerous. They’re… wild. Listen to me.

He turns to Juror #4 (E. G. Marshall), who is still sat at the table.

Juror #10: Listen to me.

Juror #4: I have. Now, sit down and don’t open your mouth again.

Thoughts:

You know a film is good when you don’t notice 90 minutes passing. Even a good film can often have you checking your clock during a particularly slow scene to see how long you have left. I didn’t do that once during 12 Angry Men. It was one of the most gripping movies I have ever seen.

Twelve superbly cast actors give us a rather uncomfortable example of why the jury system could be seen as flawed. “Truth” can be manipulated, prejudices can influence a juror’s opinion, memory can fail. All the while, a person’s life hangs in the balance.

Coincidentally, I recently reviewed The Maltese Falcon and admired its final scene for the same reason I admired 12 Angry Men; the action takes place (bar a total of about 5 minutes) in one room — in the case of this film, one small hot room containing twelve men with opposing views.

A heavy task for writer and director. But, boy, did they pull it off.

Reviewed by Ally
Umpteenth viewing

Essential Scene:

According to testimony, the suspect yelled “I’m going to kill you” before stabbing his father to death. Juror #8 had argued that people often say such things in the heat of the moment and rarely mean it. Most of the other Jurors were convinced by this, except #3.

Later, Juror #8 dissects another piece of evidence. He argues that an old man underestimated the time it took him to walk to his front door and witness the suspect running down the stairs. He reenacts the scene, dragging his left leg as the old man did, and finds it takes forty-one seconds, compared to the old man’s estimate of fifteen.

Juror #8: Here’s what I think happened. The old man heard the fight between the boy and his father a few hours earlier then, when he’s lying in his bed, he heard the body hit the floor of the boy’s apartment, heard the woman scream from across the street, got to his front door as fast as he could, heard somebody racing down the stairs and assumed it was the boy.

Juror #6: I think that’s possible.

Juror #3: Assume?! Brother, I’ve seen all kinds of dishonesty in my day but this little display takes the cake. You all come in here with your hearts bleeding all over the floor about slum kids and injustice. You listen to some fairytales, suddenly you start getting through to some of these old ladies — well you’re not getting through to me, I’ve had enough. [shouting] What’s the matter with you guys?! You all know he’s guilty, he’s got to burn, you’re letting him slip through our fingers!

Juror #8: Slip through our fingers? Are you his executioner?

Juror #3: I’m one of them!

Juror #8: Perhaps you’d like to pull the switch.

Juror #3: For this kid, you bet I would.

Juror #8: I feel sorry for you. What it must feel like to want to pull the switch. Ever since you walked into this room you’ve been acting like a self-appointed public avenger. You want to see this boy die because you personally want it, not because of the facts. You’re a sadist.

Juror #3 lunges furiously for #8. The other jurors hold him back.

Juror #3: Let me go. I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him!

Juror #8: You don’t really mean you’ll kill me, do you?

Juror #3’s face drops. Juror #8’s earlier point has been completely vindicated.

Thoughts:

Every year, technological advances bring us startling and spectacular new images of seemingly ever-increasing scale and intricacy. Frankly, I don’t know why they bother; one of the most gripping films ever made features just twelve ordinary men and takes place almost entirely in one room.

The titular 12 Angry Men are the members of a jury. They must decide whether to find a young man guilty of killing his father, a verdict which carries a manditory death sentence. Most of the jurors initially assume guilt; the evidence is stacked against the boy. Henry Fonda — probably the actor best suited to playing the voice of reason and justice — plays Juror #8, the only one with doubts about the suspect’s guilt.

The film is a Rorschach test of sorts. Is Juror #8 saving an innocent man or releasing a murderer? According to director Sidney Lumet, he and writer Reginald Rose held differing views; Rose, unlike Lumet, believed that mankind is inherently good. As far as I’m concerned, Rose’s optimistic outlook wins the day. 12 Angry Men is filled with triumphant moments which reaffirm my faith in humanity, as evidence and prejudices unravel and become unsustainable.

The scene in which all the other jurors literally stand up against #10’s bitter polemic (as detailed by m’colleague) is one of the great moments of cinema, and there are plenty of other bits that aren’t far behind. The writing, acting and directing in 12 Angry Men are all impeccable. If you haven’t seen it, I cannot recommend it enough.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2010 3:36 pm

    My favourite moment is when #8 pulls out a knife which is identical to the murder weapon. A wonderful shocking moment.

    • December 7, 2010 3:49 pm

      Another great moment indeed. Incidentally, I recently played an Xbox film quiz with some people I’d just met. One round involved answering questions about that very clip. The moment it started I went “ooh, 12 Angry Men.” The first question: Name the film.

      Luckily nobody was listening to me, so they still all got it wrong. Gosh-darn fools!

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