12 Angry Men – **** (Classic Movie)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Starring Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, Robert Webber
Twelve men walk into a smoldering, small, fan-less room. They are a jury and have to make their decision on whether or not an 18-year-old boy who stabbed his father to death is guilty or not guilty. We only see outside of the small room for 3 minutes (secondhand learning of the case, never any flashbacks) and in one of the scenes it shows the judge telling the jury to make their decision in a bored tone voice. He knows that the jury is going to vote “not-guilty,” but he’s wrong. Most of them are thinking that this is going to be a half-hour meeting. Some light up their cigarettes, open the windows to get a whiff of fresh air, and sit back ready to make their vote. The foreman of it all then lays down the rules that there has to be a unanimous decision and then asks to hear everyone’s verdict. Eleven hands go up for claiming the boy guilty, which would lead to the boy getting sentenced to the electric chair, but one lone hand is proudly raised for not guilty.
This room consists of all types of prejudices, anger, and souls that seem to be heading in the wrong direction. The lone voter is played by Henry Fonda. He has to battle and reason with these men until they decide to come over and see his point of the murder. As a whole this case isn’t as clear as it seems to be. The boy who’s convicted is a foreigner from Thai and resides in the slums. We only get shown his face one time. That shot comes in the beginning of the movie as the camera does a close up on his face that leads us to his lonely and even innocent looking eyes.
The camera work is phenomenal. Right off the bat we are the ones entering the court building. As the camera rises to read the name of the building and then the camera opening the doors to the courtroom. The camera is the viewer. When each of the jurors begin to talk they are looking at the camera, which makes it as if they are talking to us about the case. We become part of the case and begin to feel the pain and frustration that each of these men are going through.
In 12 Angry Men, Lee J. Cobb steals the entire movie. His character is simply ruthless but at the same time he’s yearning to be tended to. He’s having his own personal trail: deciding to forgive his 22-year-old boy who walked out on him. That’s eating him up inside and whenever he looks in his wallet and see the picture of him and his son he becomes more possessed and hateful. All the anger that he wants to unleash on his boy he wants to unleash on the boy who is up for murder. Guilty or not guilty, he just wants this boy sentenced to death. Just like some of the other men on the jury, they also believe that kids these days have no respect for their elders.
There’s a specific scene where this idea that these men possess about the younger generation comes back to bite them. One of the young guilty voters raises his voice and begins to insult a not-guilty voter who just happens to be an old man. Another scene is when Fonda’s character explains how the boy up for murder could have just screamed “I’ll kill ya” to his father accidentally and never really meaning it. Fonda gets Cobb all worked up and Cobb shouts back “I’ll kill ya!” The rest of the men are shocked and the expression on Cobb’s face is haunting as he finds out what he said.
Fonda’s character coming up with these unbelievable stories about how the kid can be guilty have the jurors scratching their heads. He believes in something and having the odds against him makes him only better. This isn’t your average guy who would just say “not-guilty” because he has to go to a New York Yankee baseball game. He realizes that all the evidence that has been presented isn’t all that conclusive and that shouldn’t be enough to sentence a kid to death. As Fonda is talking, expressing his point of view, some of the others are doodling on paper and playing tic-tac-toe. Fonda gets outraged and rips up the paper and yells “you think this kids life is a game!”
We’re never given the clean cut verdict but instead we’re left with the final shot in the room with Cobb’s head down on the table and Fonda coming over to but his coat on him.
This movie places number 9 on IMDB top 250 movie list. It is the only movie in the top 10 besides Schindler’s List to not use color film stock. Not using Technicolor also enhances its glow and increases its age. Made in 1957, Technicolor was in full throttle.
Each character is very distinguished. Given the two tone color palette the actors are forced to make their characters as distinctly unique as they possibly can. When the votes begin to even out that is when we get to see the true colors of these men. The jurors who vote guilty have the prejudice mentality but most of all they look the part as well. As for the jurors who voted “guilty” look as if they’re you’re everyday nice guy. Director Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon) marked his career movie directing debut with this film. The way he shapes and creates incredible depth to each of the jurors is amazing. We come to know each of their likes and dislikes. One of them is a messenger, a broker, an architect, two baseball junkies, a catch phrase writer, a foreigner, a sissy, a guy who doesn’t sweat, a racist, and a foreman and a man who lived in the slums.
They all come together in this small room and for one week they sat and listened to everyone’s story. Now it’s time to hear each others. Everyone became friends or enemies. They walk out of the room each going their separate ways. It’s not until this scene that we get a real name. As the old man runs over to Fonda’s character and asks for his name and he replies “Davis.” Never again will these people see each other but that room, on one scorching New York day, bonded them.