12 Angry Men

If you haven’t seen it:

12-angry-men-poster12 Angry Men is an unusual film. It is set almost entirely in one room, and feels more like a play than a movie. It shows us, in real time, a jury’s deliberations at the end of a murder trial. A young man is accused of murdering his father; witnesses place him at the scene, and the evidence points to his guilt. At first it seems like an open and shut case, but one man has his doubts and tries to persuade the others to come round to his point of view.

If this doesn’t sound like an enticing premise, don’t be put off – it is an exciting movie, full of drama and tension. Most people will guess the outcome after watching the first ten minutes, but it is fascinating to see how the story unfolds nevertheless. Some of the actors do chew the scenery a bit at times, and the positioning of the liberals as the good guys dressed in white is rather simplistic, but 12 Angry Men will have you thinking and questioning your own beliefs long after it has finished.

It stars Henry Fonda (father of Jane Fonda and Peter Fonda, grandfather of Bridget Fonda) in the main role. There are also one or two other actors you might recognize.

If you have seen it:

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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.

 

Plot:

A murder trial comes to an end, and the jury of twelve men are led into a private room to decide between themselves whether the defendant, a teenage Mexican boy, is guilty of murdering his father.

At first his guilt seems obvious – the murder weapon was the boy’s knife, and two witnesses place him at the scene; one even claims she saw him do it. The jury have a vote, and eleven of them say “guilty”, only one (juror #8) “not guilty”.

#8 encourages the others to talk about the case, and during the discussion they all realize that most of the claims made by the prosecution are questionable. Firstly, the style of knife used as the murder weapon was not, as they had been told, unique, and was easily available to buy in the victim’s neighbourhood. Perhaps then the murder weapon was not the boy’s knife, but one that just looked similar. Secondly, the old man who heard the murder couldn’t have done so because a train was going past at the time. Thirdly, the jury suspect the eye-witness across the street needs glasses (because of marks on her nose) and conclude that she was not wearing them at the time of the murder.

As the discussions progress, the jurors change their votes one by one. Some jurors struggle with their prejudices more than others, but eventually all twelve agree to vote “not guilty”.

12 Angry Men
by Paul Perro
I give this old movie ten out of ten,
But why did they call it “12 Angry Men”?
Some of them do get a little bit cross,
But most of them don’t seem to give a toss.

Steve Says:

Did the boy murder his father or not? Did the writer himself know, or did he leave it ambiguous deliberately? Does it matter?

For the boy to be innocent we have to believe:

(a) the unlikely story about him losing the knife and the killer happening to have an identical one,
(b) that he went to the movies even though he could not remember the film and nobody saw him there, and
(c) that two impartial witnesses lied.

Yes, all three events are possible, but isn’t it more likely that that the boy did kill his father, and the old man downstairs got confused or misheard something, and the woman across the street uses reading glasses and can see perfectly well at distance? The reason the boy was found innocent was not that the prosecution failed to prove their case, it was that the defense failed to question the evidence, so the jury assumed that if they had questioned it then it would have been found inadequate.

Does it bother me that a boy who killed his father, after years of abuse, got away with it? Not really. Imagine for a moment though that instead of being accused of killing an abusive father, the boy was accused of killing an innocent child. All of juror #8’s arguments would still have been valid, but would we have felt the same way at the end of the movie when the jury found him not guilty, knowing that there is a good chance the court has released a murderer who might well kill again?

It has been claimed that 12 Angry Men might have had an effect on the real world – there is some anecdotal evidence that many people going into jury service in the US watched this film, and decided they want to be like Henry Fonda. The result was that lots of guilty people went free because the juries were so keen to find reasonable doubt. Some people believe this movie made the world a more dangerous place; I don’t know whether I believe it or not – maybe I don’t.

 

Main Cast and Crew:

Henry Fonda … Juror #8
Lee J. Cobb … Juror #3
Jack Klugman … Juror #5
Director Sidney Lumet

 

Trivia Trish Says:

  • 12 Angry Men was nominated for 3 Oscars, but it lost out in all 3 categories to The Bridge on the River Kwai.
  • The movie is an adaptation of a “TV play”.
  • Henry Fonda did not like watching himself on film, and walked out during the first showing. Before he left though, he said quietly to director Sidney Lumet, “Sidney, it’s magnificent.”
  • Jack Klugman later went on to star in the hit 1970s-80s TV show “Quincy”, a drama about police forensics. He was the last survivor of the twelve stars of the movie – he died in December 2012, aged 90.

 

Chris the Critic says:

At the beginning of the film, director Sidney Lumet positioned the cameras above eye level, and used wide-angle lenses. This gives the appearance of greater distance between the subjects. As the film progresses though, the cameras move down to eye level, and eventually below eye level. Furthermore, the increasing use of close-ups and lenses of longer focal lengths create a mounting sense of claustrophobia, as the surroundings seemed to close in on the characters.
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