12 Angry Men
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Movie Poster

submitted by: Elsa Galvan
Release Date:
1957
Directed by: Sydney Lumet

Synopsis:
Sydney Lumet’s classic, 12 Angry Men focuses on a group of men on a jury that are given a daunting task: to determine whether a man will live or die. A case with circumstantial evidence is presented to the jury and they are asked to either indict or acquit a downtrodden Hispanic boy. The verdict will either lead to his freedom or the electric chair. Although it seems like an easy decision at first, things become complicated when a lone juror is not easily convinced of the boy’s guilt. Piece by Piece, the evidence is taken apart by the doubting juror and he begins to cast doubt on the rest of his colleagues. As they deliberate the hesitant jurors begin to display individual prejudices, experiences, and other biases and slowly they change their votes from guilty to non-guilty.
Commentary:
Lumet’s Film 12 Angry Men is a perfect example of a film that relied solely on its script to carry the story. Unlike the movies of current times, the story and the dialogue are the most important parts; special effects and exotic locales were not needed. It is quite evident that the movie was based on a play of the same name. Just as a theater production, 12 Angry Men takes place in only one location and the responsibility of interesting the audience lies within the performing abilities of each actor. The actors portrayed human irrationality well as one by one they were exposed as bigots, sadists, and selfish people. Juror number 3, played by Lee J. Cobb, had a particularly convincing persona. His stellar performance was made to make the audience hate him and then feel sorry for him while he held out as the last one to vote guilty. The calm but deliberate Henry Fonda quietly and respectfully states his case and provides quite a contrast to the hasty jurors that speak loudly and behave coarsely. After having their ideas and evidence disputed by Fonda, each juror becomes more rational and similar to Fonda’s character. Ultimately, the film seems to juxtapose rational thinking and decision-making based on emotions and biases. Lumet’s seems to symbolically put the jurors in “the hot seat” in his stuffy deliberation room and as they listen to the voice of reason the rooms begins to cool ( the fan suddenly starts working when the vote is 9 to 3.) 12 Angry Men thoughtfully looks into the American judicial system and it is a gripping examination of the effectiveness of our democracy.

Academic Analysis:
12 Angry Men presents some very interesting points-of-view to the viewer. Shots of the immense courtroom entrance and the small people in it are used to show the very large responsibility that is placed upon very regular people. Lumet begins the movie with a shot of a doe-eyed Hispanic boy and as the camera and the men move away, somber music playing casts him in a sympathetic light. By the time the men are literally locked in the room, the viewer has already been told how to feel about the accused. The movie is filmed almost exclusively in one room; the room in which the jury, and the audience itself, is stuck until they’ve made a decision. This is very unusual for a time in which directors were experimenting with complicated scenery and camera tricks. In addition to the single set, the movie is set in real time. Because of this, there aren’t any flashbacks or devices to speed-up time. Once the jury starts to deliberate, the viewer will not be released until they are finished going over every detail.
Lumet’s commentary about the American court system is evident in both the storyline of the movie and through the dialogue of his characters. As some jurors begin to make personal attacks against the accused boy, an immigrant juror reminds them that one of the great things about America is our fair judicial system. He states that it is an honor to be on a jury and that it should be appreciated that if a crime is committed, the accused will be judged by people that do not know him personally and thus will not gain or lose anything through the verdict. Essentially, this line in the movie is Lumet’s thesis.

Books:

Lumet, Sidney. Making Movies. 1st ed. New York: VintageBooks, 1995. Making Movies is both a guide and a memoir for Lumet. In it he describes moving from tele-plays and the “small screen” to making feature-length films. 12 Angry Men was his first movie after transitioning from television.

Hyde, Michael J. (ed.). The ethos of rhetoric. Foreword by Calvin O. Schrag. pp. 75-88. Columbia; London: South Carolina UP, 2004. This book contains a chapter by Walter Jost titled "Sweating the little things in Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men." It is unique in that it examines the philosophical arguments made in the movie and their ability to convince the Jury on whether to vote guilty or non-guilty.

Rose, Reginald. Twelve Angry Men: A Play in Three Acts. Dramatic
Publications Company, 1983.The original play on which the movie was based.



Articles:

Cunningham, Frank "Sydney Lumet's Humanism: The Return to the Father in Twelve Angry Men". 1986. November 16 2009. <http://web.ebscohost.com.ozone.nsc.nevada.edu:8080/lrc/pdf?vid=4&hid=105&sid=de89d47b-b508-4c6e-b826-aaa6f7996e1f%40sessionmgr112>.
Frank Cunningham’s article provides a detailed review of Lumet’s casting, filming, and themes in 12 Angry Men.

Bookrags Staff. "Film Techniques in Twelve Angry Men". 2000. November 16 2009. <http://www.bookrags.com/essay-2004/9/29/103834/754>.
This article describes the camera angles used in the film and their effect on the storyline.

Jones, Fred. "Media Ethics Goes to the Movies." American Journalism 20.1 (2003): 106-7. OmniFile Full Text Select. Web. 17 Nov. 2009. Fred Jones illustrates the manner in which some directors choose scripts with ethical commentaries. 12 Angry men is a good example of this.

Websites:

Dirks, Tim. "The Greatest Films, The "Greatest" and the "Best" in Cineamtic History" <http:www.filmsite.org>
This website describes the movie scene by scene and provides an in-depth analysis as well as a background for the script.

Norman Miller. “Twelve Angry Men- Film (Movie) Plot and Reviews” <http://www.filmreference.com/Films-Tw-Vi/Twelve-Angry-Men.html> This website provides students with articles, books, and commentary about “12 Angry Men.”

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12 Angry Men." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 17 Nov. 2009
<
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/610903/12-Angry-Men>.
Has a brief synopsis and links to other references for the film.