Sunday, June 10, 2012

You Know How I Am

With old movies, anyhow. The classics.

12 Angry Men is such a classic. Directed by Sidney Lumet, shot in black and white, and using primarily only one set - the jury room in a courthouse, it is surely a minimalistic picture - stark in it's scenery, but lavish in it's revelations of the qualities of the characters.

The various characters are deciding the fate of a young man accused of knifing his father, killing him. The young man is of an unnamed minority group living in the slums of New York. The jurors only refer to themselves by their "numbers," and it's a hot day, so the room gets pretty warm and tempers rise as the afternoon progresses. Remember, this was before air conditioning became ubiquitous.

Henry Fonda plays Juror #8, surely the "hero" of the movie. At first, he alone thought there was a reasonable doubt that the kid had killed his father, and doubted some of the testimony that the prosecution witnesses provided. He also doubted the ability of the defense attorney. The other men gradually expose their various biases and prejudices. Some of the more notable character actors in this tense drama are: Martin Balsam, John Fiedler (he was a master of the timid demeanor, and one of his more notable roles was as Lawyer Daggett in True Grit), Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman (famous for Quincy, M.E.), Jack Warden,  Ed Bagley (Sr.), and Robert Webber. Edward Binns, Joseph Sweeney, and George Voskovec. I am not familiar with the last three, but they provided their skills as well as the ones I do know. Fonda's performance is very understated, calm and logical. Right down his alley, in other words.

While Fonda is clearly the star here, there are performances that truly merit attention. Too bad they didn't - the movie was was critically acclaimed, but received no Academy notice nor was it a financial success. It wasn't until the movie was shown on television that it finally was noticed. One of the jucier roles was of Juror #3 - portrayed by Lee J. Cobb. His emotional and draining outbursts as Juror #8's protagonist really helped frame the atmosphere. His best efforts came towards the end, when he was outvoted and was the lone juror voting guilty. The heat of the day had broken, and it was raining. He, too, would break.


It's a shame that the uploader didn't include the end of that clip and substituted an earlier outburst by Juror #3 - the scene was of the jurors leaving the room for the courtroom, the broken Juror #3 with his head in his arm seated at the table, and Juror #8 getting his coat and slipping it over him, helping him stand and find his way out. Pretty touching stuff.

As a summary, it's hard to beat Wikipedia's Legacy section on the page for the movie:
The film is today viewed as a classic, highly regarded from both a critical and popular viewpoint: Roger Ebert lists it as one of his "Great Movies".[12] The American Film Institute named Juror 8, played by Henry Fonda, 28th in a list of the 50 greatest movie heroes of the 20th centuryAFI 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.[13] In June 2008, it revealed AFI's 10 Top 10—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. 12 Angry Men was acknowledged as the second best film in the courtroom drama genre. As of January 2011, the film holds a 100% approval rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[14] In 2011, the film was the second most screened film in secondary schools in the United Kingdom.[15]

All well deserved. If you've never seen it, and you enjoy courtroom dramas*, you should make it a point to check this one out. There is no action, no car chases, no shootings, yet it is a gripping statement of the human character. Check it out.

*I'm assuming the number one courtroom drama in AFI's list would be To Kill A Mockingbird. Totally agree there.


drjim said...

I played Juror #3 in my high-school production of that.

Jeffro said...

Wow! Bet you had a time!

drjim said...

Yeah, I played him pretty extreme.