Sidney Lumet (director)
Criterion Collection (studio)
15 May 2017 (released)
16 May 2017
This 1957 courtroom drama is based upon Reginald’s Rose TV-play of the same name and boasts a stellar cast including Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam and Jack Klugmann (to name but a few) as jurors whose unanimous verdict will seal the fate of a teenager accused of murdering his father.
The twelve jurors are never mentioned by name but merely by number: Juror 1 (Martin Balsam), Juror 2 (John Fiedler), Juror 3 (Lee J. Cobb), Juror 4 (E. G. Marshall), Juror 5 (Jack Klugmann), Juror 6 (Edward Binns), Juror 7 (Jack Warden), Juror 8 (Henry Fonda), Juror 9 (Joseph Sweeney), Juror 10 (Ed Begley), Juror 11 (George Voskovec), and Juror 12 (Robert Webber). Throughout the film, the action takes place almost entirely inside the jury room of a New York City courthouse during a sweltering hot afternoon.
The Accused is an 18-year old teenager who grew up at the wrong side of the tracks, a slum kid regularly mistreated by his father and whose early path included reform school and the life of a petty criminal, or juvenile delinquent if you prefer. As the saying goes, an ugly environment creates ugly people and thus the kid may be forgiven for having made wrong choices in his still oh so young life… but will he be forgiven for apparently stabbing his father to death during a heated argument?
For this is precisely what ‘The boy’ stands accused of and it is for the jury to decide whether he will walk free or end up on the electric chair. At first, all evidence points towards ‘guilty’ and the assembled jurors are pretty much in agreement but then Nr. 8 suddenly displays doubts and comes up with reasons as to why there might just be a slight possibility that the boy may not be the murderer after all… suffice to say, his doubts are dismissed by the other eleven jurors. As the stifling heat and flaring tempers gradually take toll on each and every one of the jurors we get to know them a little better. For example, Nr. 10’s rationale is utterly dominated by his hatred of people from slums while Nr. 7 only seems interested in the jury reaching a verdict as quickly as possible so he can go to see a Yankee game that evening (for which he already purchased the tickets). Then there is Nr. 3 who is plagued by his own personal demons… a ‘sadist’ who can’t tolerate youngsters who display a lack of discipline.
As the pro-guilty and not-guilty arguments continue, Nr. 8 still seems to be the odd one out when it comes to doubting the boy’s guilt. Eventually though, his reasoning and the fact that the murder weapon – an apparently highly unusual switchblade knife – can be obtained easier than thought (Nr. 8 purchased one himself to prove a point) gradually changes the opinion of some of the other jurors. Then there are the witnesses to the murder (which we don’t see) but thanks to his determination and a little detective work, Nr. 8 manages to weaken their statements, which in turn leads to more and more of the jurors coming to the conclusion that the boy might be innocent after all…
Despite the fact that the murder is never shown and there are no flashback scenes, 12 ANGRY MEN is a tense and gripping affair, cleverly constructed in the way each of the twelve jurors displays more and more of their real character during the session in the jury room. Sweat drips and tempers flare as each individual starts to show their true colours.
This Special Edition furthermore includes various Interviews, the 1955 TV-Version, the 1956 Sidney Lumet teleplay ‘Tragedy in a Temporary Town’ (with similar themes of prejudice), the original trailer and an info booklet.