12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Angry Men (1957 film)
12 Angry Men is a 1957 American courtroom drama film directed by Sidney Lumet, adapted from a 1954 teleplay of the same name by Reginald Rose. The film tells the story of a jury of 12 men as they deliberate the conviction or acquittal of an 18-year old defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt, forcing the jurors to question their morals and values.
12 Angry Men explores many techniques of consensus-building and the difficulties encountered in the process among this group of men whose range of personalities adds to the intensity and conflict. It also explores the power one person has to elicit change. The jury members are identified only by number; no names are revealed until an exchange of dialogue at the very end. The film forces the characters and audience to evaluate their own self-image through observing the personality, experiences, and actions of the jurors. The film is also notable for its almost exclusive use of one set, where all but three minutes of the film takes place.
In 2007, the film was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film was selected as the second-best courtroom drama ever (after To Kill a Mockingbird) by the American Film Institute for their AFI's 10 Top 10 list. It is regarded by many as one of the greatest films ever made.
In the overheated jury room of the New York County Courthouse, a jury prepares to deliberate the case of an 18-year-old impoverished youth accused of stabbing his father to death. The judge instructs them that if there is any reasonable doubt, the jurors are to return a verdict of not guilty; if found guilty, the defendant will receive a death sentence. The verdict must be unanimous.
At first, the evidence seems convincing: a neighbor testified to witnessing the defendant stab his father from her window. Another neighbor testified that he heard the defendant threaten to kill his father and the father's body hitting the ground, and then, through his peephole, saw the defendant run past his door. The boy has a violent past and had recently purchased a switchblade of the same type as was found at the murder scene, but claimed he lost it. The knife at the scene had been cleaned of fingerprints.
The jurors at first seem to take the decision lightly. Juror 7 in particular is anxious to catch his tickets to the baseball game. In a preliminary vote conducted by Juror 1, all jurors vote guilty except Juror 8, who believes that there should be some discussion before the verdict is made. He questions the reliability of the witnesses’ testimonies and also throws doubt on the supposed uniqueness of the murder weapon by producing an identical switchblade from his pocket. He says he cannot vote guilty because reasonable doubt exists. With his arguments seemingly failing to convince any of the other jurors, Juror 8 suggests a secret ballot, from which he will abstain; if all the other jurors still vote guilty, he will acquiesce. The ballot reveals one not guilty vote. Juror 3 immediately accuses Juror 5 (who previously said he grew up in the slums like the defendant). As the two bicker, Juror 9 reveals that he changed his vote, respecting Juror 8's motives and agreeing there should be more discussion.
Juror 8 argues that the noise of a passing train would have obscured the threat the second witness claimed to have overheard. Juror 5 changes his vote, as does Juror 11, who believes the defendant, had he truly killed his father, would not have returned to the crime scene several hours later to retrieve the murder weapon as it had already been cleaned of fingerprints. Juror 8 points out that people often say "I'm going to kill you" without literally meaning it.
Jurors 5, 6, and 8 further question the second witness's story. Juror 3 is infuriated, and after a verbal argument, tries to attack Juror 8, shouting "I'll kill him!", proving Juror 8's point about the defendant's words. Jurors 2 and 6 change their votes; the jury is now evenly split.
Juror 4 doubts the defendant's alibi, based on the boy's inability to recall certain details regarding his alibi. Juror 8 tests Juror 4's own memory. He is able to remember events from the previous week, with difficulty similar to the defendant. Jurors 2, 3, and 8 debate whether the defendant could have stabbed his much-taller father from a downward angle, eventually deciding it was physically possible, though awkward. Juror 5 points out that someone who knew how to use a switchblade would have instead stabbed underhand at an upward angle.
Juror 7 half-heartedly changes his vote, leading to an inquisition by Juror 11. Under duress Juror 7 sloppily says he thinks the boy is not guilty. After another vote, Jurors 12 and 1 also change their votes, leaving only three guilty votes. Juror 10 erupts in vitriol regarding the defendant's ethnicity. The rest of the jurors, except Jurors 4 and 7, stand up to turn their backs to him. When he bemoans that nobody is listening to him, Juror 4 states that he has, and tells him to sit down and be quiet. Juror 10 then walks over to a desk in the corner, now isolated. Juror 8 makes a statement about reasonable doubt before having the rest of the jurors return to the case. Juror 4 declares that the woman who saw the killing from across the street stands as solid evidence. Juror 12 reverts to a guilty vote.
After watching Juror 4 rub his nose, irritated by impressions from his eyeglasses, Juror 9 realizes that the first witness had the same impressions on her nose as well, indicating that she wore eyeglasses as well but did not wear them to court. The other jurors begin to chime in about this new breakthrough. Juror 8 reasons that the witness, who was trying to sleep when she saw the killing, was not wearing her eyeglasses when it happened and she would not have had time to put them on to get a clear view of the person who did the stabbing, making her story dubious. Juror 8 goes around the room to question Jurors 12, 10 and 4 (in that order) about changing their vote. The remaining jurors, except Juror 3, change their vote to not guilty.
Juror 3 gives an increasingly tortured string of arguments, building on earlier remarks about his strained relationship with his own son. In a moment of rage, Juror 3 tears up a photograph of him and his son before breaking down sobbing. He mutters not guilty, making the vote unanimous. As the others leave, Juror 8 helps the distraught Juror 3 with his coat. The defendant is found not guilty off-screen and the jurors leave the courthouse. In a brief epilogue, Jurors 8 (Davis) and 9 (McCardle) introduce each other for the first time by their names before parting.
- Martin Balsam as Juror 1, the jury foreman; a calm and methodical assistant high school football coach.
- John Fiedler as Juror 2, a meek and unpretentious bank worker who is initially dominated by others.
- Lee J. Cobb as Juror 3, a hot-tempered owner of a courier business who is estranged from his son; the most passionate advocate of a guilty verdict.
- E. G. Marshall as Juror 4, an unflappable and analytical stock broker who is concerned with the facts of the case.
- Jack Klugman as Juror 5, a man who grew up in a violent slum, and is sensitive to insults about his upbringing.
- Edward Binns as Juror 6, a tough but principled house painter who consistently speaks up when others are verbally disrespected, especially the elderly.
- Jack Warden as Juror 7, a wisecracking salesman who expresses indifference to the case.
- Henry Fonda as Davis, Juror 8, a humane, justice-seeking architect; initially the only one to vote "not guilty" and openly question the seemingly clear evidence presented.
- Joseph Sweeney as McCardle, Juror 9, a wise and intelligent senior who is highly observant of the witnesses' behaviors and their possible motivations.
- Ed Begley as Juror 10, a pushy, loud-mouthed, and xenophobic garage owner.
- George Voskovec as Juror 11, a European watchmaker and naturalized American citizen who demonstrates strong respect for democratic values such as due process.
- Robert Webber as Juror 12, an indecisive and distractible advertising executive.
- Rudy Bond as the Judge
- Tom Gorman as the Stenographer
- James Kelly as the Bailiff
- Billy Nelson as the Court clerk
- John Savoca as the Defendant
- Walter Stocker as Man waiting for elevator
Reginald Rose's screenplay for 12 Angry Men was initially produced for television (starring Robert Cummings as Juror 8), and was broadcast live on the CBS program Studio One in September 1954. A complete kinescope of that performance, which had been missing for years and was feared lost, was discovered in 2003. It was staged at Chelsea Studios in New York City.
The success of the television production resulted in a film adaptation. Sidney Lumet, whose prior directorial credits included dramas for television productions such as The Alcoa Hour and Studio One, was recruited by Henry Fonda and Rose to direct. 12 Angry Men was Lumet's first feature film, and the only producing credit for Fonda and Rose (under the production company, Orion-Nova Productions). Fonda later stated that he would never again produce a film.
The film was shot in New York and completed after a short but rigorous rehearsal schedule, in less than three weeks, on a budget of $337,000 (equivalent to $3,068,000 in 2019). Rose and Fonda took salary deferrals.
At the beginning of the film, the cameras are positioned above eye level and mounted with wide-angle lenses, to give the appearance of greater depth between subjects, but as the film progresses the focal length of the lenses is gradually increased. By the end of the film, nearly everyone is shown in closeup, using telephoto lenses from a lower angle, which decreases or "shortens" depth of field. Lumet stated that his intention in using these techniques with cinematographer Boris Kaufman was to create a nearly palpable claustrophobia.
On its first release, 12 Angry Men received critical acclaim. A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote, "It makes for taut, absorbing, and compelling drama that reaches far beyond the close confines of its jury room setting." His observation of the twelve men was that "their dramas are powerful and provocative enough to keep a viewer spellbound." Variety called it an "absorbing drama" with acting that was "perhaps the best seen recently in any single film," Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times declared it a "tour de force in movie making," The Monthly Film Bulletin deemed it "a compelling and outstandingly well handled drama," and John McCarten of The New Yorker called it "a fairly substantial addition to the celluloid landscape."
However, the film was a box office disappointment in the US but did better internationally. The advent of color and widescreen productions may have contributed to its disappointing box office performance. It was not until its first airing on television that the movie finally found its audience.
The film is viewed as a classic, highly regarded from both a critical and popular viewpoint: Roger Ebert listed it as one of his "Great Movies". The American Film Institute named Juror 8, played by Henry Fonda, 28th in a list of the 50 greatest movie heroes of the 20th century. AFI also named 12 Angry Men the 42nd most inspiring film, the 88th most heart-pounding film and the 87th best film of the past hundred years. The film was also nominated for the 100 movies list in 1998. In 2011, the film was the second most screened film in secondary schools in the United Kingdom. As of November 2020, the film holds a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 52 reviews, with a weighted average of 8.98/10. The site's consensus reads: "Sidney Lumet's feature debut is a superbly written, dramatically effective courtroom thriller that rightfully stands as a modern classic".
American Film Institute lists:
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – No. 88
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains: Juror No. 8 – No. 28 Hero
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – No. 42
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – No. 87
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – No. 2 Courtroom Drama
The film was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing of Adapted Screenplay. It lost to The Bridge on the River Kwai in all three categories. At the 7th Berlin International Film Festival, the film won the Golden Bear Award.
The film was selected as the second-best courtroom drama ever by the American Film Institute during their AFI's 10 Top 10 list, just after To Kill a Mockingbird, and is the highest courtroom drama on Rotten Tomatoes' Top 100 Movies of All Time.
Speaking at a screening of the film during the 2010 Fordham University Law School Film festival, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that seeing 12 Angry Men while she was in college influenced her decision to pursue a career in law. She was particularly inspired by immigrant Juror 11's monologue on his reverence for the American justice system. She also told the audience of law students that, as a lower-court judge, she would sometimes instruct juries to not follow the film's example, because most of the jurors' conclusions are based on speculation, not fact. Sotomayor noted that events such as Juror 8 entering a similar knife into the proceeding; performing outside research into the case matter in the first place; and ultimately the jury as a whole making broad, wide-ranging assumptions far beyond the scope of reasonable doubt (such as the inferences regarding the woman wearing glasses) would not be allowed in a real-life jury situation, and would in fact have yielded a mistrial (assuming, of course, that applicable law permitted the content of jury deliberations to be revealed).
There have been a number of adaptations. A 1963 German TV production Die zwölf Geschworenen was directed by Günter Gräwert, and a 1973 Spanish production, Doce hombres sin piedad, was made for TV 22 years before Spain allowed juror trials, while a 1991 homage by Kōki Mitani, Juninin no Yasashii Nihonjin ("12 gentle Japanese"), posits a Japan with a jury system and features a group of Japanese people grappling with their responsibility in the face of Japanese cultural norms. A 1986 episode of Murder, She Wrote entitled "Trial by Error" pays tribute to 12 Angry Men. The major twists are originally 10 jurors vote for "not guilty" due to self defense, Jessica votes "unsure" and another juror votes "guilty." Jessica and other jurors recall the evidence, as more and more jurors switch from "not guilty due to self defense" and come to a realization as to what actually occurred the night of the murder. The 1987 Indian film in Hindi language Ek Ruka Hua Faisla ("a pending decision") and also in Kannada as Dashamukha ("ten faces") are the remakes of the film, with an almost identical storyline. Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov also made a 2007 adaptation, 12, featuring a Chechen teen on trial in Moscow. A 2015 Chinese adaptation, 12 Citizens, follows the plot of the original 1957 American movie, while including characters reflecting contemporary Beijing society, including a cab driver, guard, businessman, policeman, a retiree persecuted in a 1950s political movement, and others. The detective drama television show Veronica Mars, which like the film includes the theme of class issues, featured an episode, "One Angry Veronica", in which the title character is selected for jury duty. The episode flips the film's format and depicts one holdout convincing the jury to convict the privileged defendants of assault against a less well-off victim, despite their lawyers initially convincing 11 jury members of a not guilty verdict.
In 1997, a television remake of the film under the same title was directed by William Friedkin and produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In the newer version, the judge is a woman and four of the jurors are black, but the overall plot remains intact. Modernizations include not smoking in the jury room, changes in references to pop culture figures and income, references to execution by lethal injection as opposed to the electric chair, more race-related dialogue and profanity.
The film has also been subject to parody. In 2015, the Comedy Central TV series Inside Amy Schumer aired a half-hour parody of the film titled "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer". The BBC Television comedy Hancock's Half Hour, starring Tony Hancock and Sid James, and written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, was parodied in the episode broadcast on October 16, 1959. The Flintstones story "Disorder in the Court" and The Simpsons story "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" similarly feature the respective patriarchs of both families playing holdout jurors. Family Guy paid tribute to the film with its Season 11 episode titled "12 and a Half Angry Men", and King of The Hill acknowledged the film with their parody "Nine Pretty Darn Angry Men" in season 3. Sitcom Happy Days also features a similar story in the season 5 episode "Fonzie for the Defense", when Howard Cunningham and Fonzie are picked for a jury, and Fonzie is the lone hold-out for innocence, swaying the rest of the jury. Saturday Night Live parodied the film in 1984 in a sketch called First Draft Theater. The American TV situation comedy, The Odd Couple, starring Jack Klugman (Juror 5 in the movie), satirizes the film in "The Jury Story". The comedy series Malcolm in the Middle paid homage to the movie in the episode "Jury Duty".