12 Angry Men

     Many movies start with promising premises that end up only partially fulfilled,
but 12 ANGRY MEN never disappoints. The rich drama with minimalist sets occurs
almost completely within the confines of a jury room. The incredibly strong
ensemble cast for the jury includes: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G.

Marshall, Jack Warden, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Joseph Sweeney, Martin

Balsam, George Voskovec, John Fiedler and Robert Webber. To further minimize
distractions, we never learn most of the jurors' names. We know them by their
opinions, backgrounds and weaknesses. They have their juror numbers, and that is
considered sufficient labeling. As the story opens, a bored judge in a capital
murder case is reading his charge to the jury. When he comes to the part about a
reasonable doubt, he repeats it with such an emphasis that he seems to be
suggesting that any doubt they may have in their minds about the defendant's
guilt is probably not reasonable. Indeed everyone, including the defendant,
seems to think the case is hopeless. The accused, played with big, soulful eyes
by John Savoca, never speaks, but his sunken, despondent demeanor says it all.

The evidence in the case is clear, and as we find out later, his attorney
apparently was pretty inept. Before the jurors start their deliberation, they
idle away their time arguing over whether the case was dull or not and over how
well the attorneys performed. If you didn't know better, you could assume they
were reviewing some movie they had seen. None of them seems to be concerned in
the least that the defendant's life is at stake. Into this sure and certain
world comes a voice of caution, someone who is willing to demand that the jurors
put a halt to their headlong rush to judgment. This voice of reason comes from a
juror played by Henry Fonda, giving a resolute and perfect performance that
should have at least gotten him an Academy Award nomination for best actor, but
didn't. Fonda's character votes not guilty on the first ballot, not because he's
sure the defendant is innocent, but because he wants to get his fellow jurors to
stop and reconsider the merits of the case. The other jurors are aghast that he
seems to have forgotten the sure and certain "facts" of the case that
prove the defendant's guilt. "Now these are facts," barks an angry
juror played by Lee J. Cobb. "You can't refute facts." Everyone brings
their differing lifestyles into the jury room. E.G. Marshall plays a prim and
proper Wall Street stockbroker. He ticks off the facts in the case as if he were
reading closing stock prices from the newspaper. His studious and ever-stern
glare cuts down those who disagree with him. And he is the only one who keeps
his coat on the entire time-he claims he never sweats, even in the stiflingly
hot jury room. His banker's glasses, one of the film's few props, turn out to be
key to the case's solution. With superciliousness, he bemoans slum dwellers such
as the defendant, only to find out that another juror, played by Jack Klugman,
grew up in the slums and resents the broker's remarks. Although most jurors are
known by the intensity of their convictions, Robert Webber plays someone who
works in advertising and views serving on a jury no more seriously than he would
concocting a laundry soap jingle. He tries using advertising lingo such as
"run this idea up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes it." After
ridicule and scorn by his fellow jurors, Henry Fonda's character suggests a
startling compromise. He will abstain from the second ballot, and if they all
vote guilty, so will he. But if he has garnered any support for the defendant,
then the rest of the jurors have to agree to stay awhile and discuss the case
with him. After he wins that round, one by one, the other jurors begin to fall
in line behind him, but even if the conclusion is obvious, the way they get
there constantly surprises and fascinates. The beauty of Rose's script is that
we come to know each of the jurors by the end of the deliberations. Most writers
would gloss over some of them to concentrate on a few, but Rose gives each a
unique personality and background. Jack Warden, for example, plays an
extroverted marmalade salesman, who made $27,000 last year and has tickets to
tonight's ball game burning in his pocket. He wants to vote guilty as quickly as
possible so he can get to the ballpark. The black-and-white cinematography makes
each member of the audience feel like a 13th juror. And the wailing, music
provides a somber atmosphere without ever overpowering. The only fault found was
with Lumet's direction is that the last holdout for guilty is allowed to convert
all too abruptly. Nevertheless, 12 ANGRY MEN is a nearly perfect drama to be
savored by generation after generation.