12 Angry Men
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Eleven jurors are convinced that the defendant is guilty of murder. The twelfth has no doubt of his innocence. How can this one man steer the others toward the same conclusion? It's a case of seemingly overwhelming evidence against a teenager accused of killing his father in "one of the best pictures ever made" (The Hollywood Reporter).
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Seventh Amendment. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Twelve Angry Men also can be used to illustrate an application of Right number nine, in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, the document that served as the basis for the French Revolution (see below).
Right Number Nine. As all persons are held innocent until they shall have been declared guilty, if arrest shall be deemed indispensable, all harshness not essential to the securing of the prisoner's person shall be severely repressed by law.
During the story, Henry Fonda repeatedly emphasizes that the correct standard of guilt, for use in a criminal trial, is the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard. In fact, the main focus of Twelve Angry Men is on Henry Fonda's burden of persuading the other jurors that they should be applying this standard, and not, for example, the less stringent standard of guilt that us used during civil court cases. Again, the film provides an excellent civics lesson, for those interested in how to apply the "burden of proof."
Furthermore, the story is good for children (ten and up) in that the plot follows a predictable path. One by one by one, each of the jurors explains why he believes that the suspect, a boy, should be found guilty of murder. And one by one by one, each of the jurors is persuaded, by a parade of evidence, that the boy is innocent. The parade of evidence includes the character of the switchblade thrust, the elevated train that drowns out the scream, the slow velocity of an elderly walking witness, and the pinched nose that demonstrated that a key witness needed glasses and couldn't see well, especially when rising from bed in the middle of the night. The plot is easy to follow for most kids who are ten or older. The story plods along with great delibration, just like the little engine that could, who cried out, "I think I can, I think I can." The story is also good for kids in that there are no bad words. Despite the fact that the story is about "anger," especially Lee J. Cobb's anger and Ed Begley's anger, the dreaded "F word" does not even make a cameo appearance.
The story also succeeds on a dramatic level. This is an ensemble piece, similar to John Hughes' The Breakfast Club. We are introduced to twelve different personalities. Lee J. Cobb's personality is ferocious, while Jack Warden's personality is goofy. Jack Warden wears a striped hat and coat, and his mind is not much on the trial, but more on the baseball ticket that is "burning a hole in his pocket." Robert Webber, an advertising man, also provides provides goofy comic relief. Ed Begley is the archetypical bigot, shamelessly spouting stereotypic rantings typical of any bigoted fanatic. John Fiedler also provides variety, as he has a whispy high voice, similar to that of Sterling Holloway. John Fiedler served as the voice of Piglet in Winnie the Pooh cartoon movies. (Sterling Holloway played the voice of the bear, Winnie the Pooh.) The thunderstorm, which makes its appearance at the halfway point, also contributes to the drama. Viewers will also be glad to see Jack Klugman, a familiar face from several Twilight Zone episodes. Jack Klugman, a former child of the urban ghetto, provides the insight that the alleged murder weapon, a switchblade, could not have been used by the accused, because of the fact that the wound was from a downwards thrust, whereas switchblades were designed to be used mainly for upward-moving thrusts.
The story also serves as a good illustration of theater techniques. For example, we see the technique of symbolism, where Henry Fonda is dressed in white. We also see another theatrical technique, in a scene where most of the jurors stand up in unison and turn their backs to a juror who harbors an unpopular view. Certainly, this strange mannerism would never appear in real life. It is a theatrical technique that symbolizes the fact that most of the jurors disagree with the one man.
The story has a surprise ending, wherein Lee J. Cobb's motivation for cherishing his guilty finding is revealed, and when Lee J. Cobb comes to terms with his own motivation, and where he changes his mind to not guilty. FIVE STARS.
If you truly admire TWELVE ANGRY MEN (which I do), then I might recommend seeking the corresponding episode in the television series of THE DEAD ZONE. TWELVE ANGRY MEN was re-scripted, somewhat, for this sci-fi television program. Anthony Michael Hall plays the Henry Fonda role. One might remember Anthony Michael Hall for his role of the geek, in SIXTEEN CANDLES. Before seeking the episode of DEAD ZONE, it might help first, to see the original movie, THE DEAD ZONE, starring Christopher Walken.
It was filmed in black and white at a time when color film was standard. There are three simple sets with one very long major scene taking place in one room. No casts of thousands. The only special effect is a little late afternoon shower that serves to ease a midpoint climax and help transition the various tensions to resolution. There is no great musical score either - no great soundtrack. One very plain jury room, twelve men, a hot day in July, no air conditioning, and more drama and tension than any film I have ever seen. You literally get sucked into the jury room even on a small screen TV. It is a pure masterpiece.
I have watched this film dozens of times and I find something new each time. Even though I know the outcome, the suspense and emotional tension never fade. The acting is outstanding. Each actor was superb and well chosen for the role played. Each actor not only created a memorable character but portrayed, in classic Greco-Roman tradition, a moral-ethical standard.
Twelve angry men is what is advertised and is what you get. Experience this great film and see that it out-shadows even today's productions. It is a must for anyone who loves drama and appreciates fine film.
PS. I must confess - I find this film so enthralling that whenever I come across it while "channel surfing" I watch it. This despite the fact that I own a video and DVD. Its that good.
Watch as the excuses, laziness, prejudice - all those things that make us judge people unfairly - get stripped away. It takes an hour and a half, so that's enough time to get into some suspense. I first saw it twenty years ago and remembered liking it enough to buy a copy a few weeks ago. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.