12 Angry Men VHS
Sidney Lumet's directorial debut remains a tense, atmospheric (though slightly manipulative and stagy) courtroom thriller, in which the viewer never sees a trial and the only action is verbal. As he does in his later corruption commentaries such as Serpico or Q & A, Lumet focuses on the lonely one-man battles of a protagonist whose ethics alienate him from the rest of jaded society. As the film opens, the seemingly open-and-shut trial of a young Puerto Rican accused of murdering his father with a knife has just concluded and the 12-man jury retires to their microscopic, sweltering quarters to decide the verdict. When the votes are counted, 11 men rule guilty, while one--played by Henry Fonda, again typecast as another liberal, truth-seeking hero--doubts the obvious. Stressing the idea of "reasonable doubt," Fonda slowly chips away at the jury, who represent a microcosm of white, male society--exposing the prejudices and preconceptions that directly influence the other jurors' snap judgments. The tight script by Reginald Rose (based on his own teleplay) presents each juror vividly using detailed soliloquies, all which are expertly performed by the film's flawless cast. Still, it's Lumet's claustrophobic direction--all sweaty close-ups and cramped compositions within a one-room setting--that really transforms this contrived story into an explosive and compelling nail-biter. --Dave McCoy
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I'm very much into DVD extras. I was excited to hear the commentary that is provided by Drew Casper, a film historian. Unfortunately, I was more frustrated by the commentary than happy with it. Casper spoke in an odd rapid fire hushed tone that annoyed me greatly. In fact, I felt aggravated by it. He was calmer in certain sections as the movie progressed, but on the whole, it was not a pleasure to listen. He did have some interesting things to say here and there, however.
What I absolutely loved was a featurette on the making of the movie. This was full of interesting info and it felt complete as it discussed each of the jurors. It talked a lot about Fonda's efforts to get the movie made, too. Another shorter featurette talked about how it was inside the jury room. These two extras are worth the price of the DVD in my view.
"12 Angry Men" first appeared on television on CBS's "Studio One" program in the early 1950's. Actor Henry Fonda was so taken with the play that he immediately launched a campaign to bring it to the big screen. When all of the major studios declined Fonda and the author of the play Reginald Rose decided to do it themselves. They recruited highly respected director Sidney Lumet and inked a deal with United Artists. Remarkably, this film was made for less than $350,000 and was shot in less than three weeks. Save for the opening and closing scenes the entire 95 minute movie was shot on one set consisting of the jury room and the adjoining bathroom. Moreover, this film was shot in glorious black and white which proved to be remarkably effective.
The matter at hand is the deliberation of a 12 man jury who must determine the guilt or innocence of a young Puerto Rican teenager who has been charged with the murder of this father. The remarkable 6 and 1/2 minute opening scene sets the tone for the entire film. As we watch these 12 men assemble in the jury room we immediately begin to get a psychological insight into each one of them. And when the foreman of the jury (Martin Balsam) decides to take an initial vote to see where things stand we learn that only juror #8 (Henry Fonda) believes tthat he young man is innocent. Thus the stage is set for a rock-em, sock-em debate as Fonda attempts to convince the other 11 jurors that they are wrong. This is courtroom drama at it's absolute best. I must tell you that the writing is nothing short of extraordinary and the acting is superb. There are truly remarkable performances by E.G. Marshall, a very young Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, Jack Warden and most especially Lee J. Cobb who plays juror #3, a highly opinionated and prejudiced man who for his own personal reasons is determined to see the defendant fry. And of course as one might expect Henry Fonda is unforgettable in the role of juror #8. During the course of the deliberations these 12 ordinary men must confront their own personal prejudices and shortcomings and make a series of moral choices. It is positively spellbinding! Meanwhile, the imaginative camera work conveys to the audience the sense of what it must be like to have to operate in such closed quarters for an extended period of time.
Although a disappointment at the box office "12 Angry Men" was nominated for three Academy Awards. The play continues to be performed by theater companies and high school groups all around the country. These days for rather obvious reasons the name has been changed to "12 Angry Jurors". If you have never seen this film I urge you to make it a point to see it. You will definitely not be disappointed and you just might discover that there is more to good film-making than special effects. Very highly recommended!
Cons: If special effects and flashy screenplays are your thing, this movie will be boring for you
The acting here is superb. Hardly surprising considering the cast, but it could have easily gone wrong. The characters here perfectly stride the line of archetypes without falling into the trap of caricature. In just 96 minutes, you get 12 characters who all feel real, and who all have their own desires, biases, and motivations. Most movies are impressive if they can flesh out one or two characters to the degree that all 12 jurors get in this movie.
And speaking of the lean 96 minute running time mentioned in the last paragraph, 12 Angry Men keeps moving at a pace you wouldn't expect for a movie about 12 people who pretty much just talk in a single room for the entire movie (well, two rooms if you count a few minutes spent in the bathroom). Even those with a short attention span should be able to enjoy this one.
I don't think I'm blowing anybody's mind by giving a great review to a movie that's been getting great reviews for half a century, but I just want to make sure that YOU see this movie. Don't put it in your Netflix queue and forget about it. Don't talk about renting it one day. Get it now, watch it tonight, and never regret it.
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