Best Courtroom Movies – 12 Angry Men
One of the most significant courtroom movies of the 20th Century is 12 Angry Men made in 1957 and directed by Sidney Lumet. Interestingly, in 1982, Lumet would direct what many consider another classic courtroom film, The Verdict, starring Paul Newman. The film notably almost exclusively uses one set – a jury deliberation room – where all but three minutes of the film takes place.
- Martin Balsam as Juror 1, the jury foreman.
- John Fiedler as Juror 2, a bank worker.
- Lee J. Cobb as Juror 3, the owner of a courier business.
- E. G. Marshall as Juror 4, a stockbroker.
- Jack Klugman as Juror 5, the only detail revealed about his background is that he grew up in a poor neighborhood.
- Edward Binns as Juror 6, a house painter.
- Jack Warden as Juror 7, a salesman.
- Henry Fonda as Juror 8; an architect.
- Joseph Sweeney Juror 9; a man of retirement age.
- Ed Begley as Juror 10, a garage owner.
- George Voskovec as Juror 11, a watchmaker and naturalized American citizen.
- Robert Webber as Juror 12, an advertising executive.
The film starts with the camera panning through a busy courthouse. What it reveals is a microcosm of the ups and downs of life itself. A man gets off an elevator with a nervous, dejected look on his face. A man exits a phone booth and jubilantly congratulates people leaving a courtroom as a bailiff cautions them to quiet their celebration.
The entire film takes place on “the hottest day of the year.” Twelve men sit in a jury box as a judge charges the jury in a routine, dispassionate, almost bored fashion. The jury is to decide a murder case. The defendant is an 18-year old man, accused of stabbing his father to death.
The judge informs them that they are to acquit the defendant if they have any reasonable doubt as to his guilt. Most courtroom movies end with a clear verdict of guilty or innocent. However, 12 Angry Men never informs the audience whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. It concerns whether the jury has a reasonable doubt about his guilt.
The men enter the jury deliberation room. After roll call is taken and the bailiff exits, one juror comments to another “I never knew they lock the door.” The men interact with each other and most of them display a desire to hurry through the process and return to the activities of their everyday lives. More than a few do not seem to grasp the significance of their responsibility to decide a young man’s fate.
What ensues is twelve men exposed and defined by their personalities, backgrounds, occupations, emotions, and prejudices. The movie addresses and reveals the prejudice of humankind without identifying the ethnicity of the defendant. Instead, there is reference only to “these people” and one of the most compelling scenes of the movie involves the bigoted rant of juror #10. In response, every juror, except one, leaves the table and turns his back on the painful vitriol spewed by their fellow juror, and fellow human.
Made with a budget of $337,000 and ninety-six minutes in length, the movie feels as if it was shot in real-time. In planning the movie, Sidney Lumet used a “lens plot” to make the room seem smaller as the story continued. He gradually changed to lenses of longer focal lengths, so that the backgrounds seemed to close in on the characters as the story evolved and their votes changed.
12 Angry Men examines the process of building a consensus and the difficulties encountered thereby when the dynamics of each juror’s personality manifests itself as a variable of this process. The film also focuses on the power that one person possesses to elicit change. The film forces the audience to evaluate their self-images by observing the personalities, inclinations, and actions of the jurors. 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.
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