Cast & Crew
Lee J. Cobb
E. G. Marshall
At the close of a murder trial conducted in a New York City courtroom, the judge gives the jury its final instructions, reminding them that a guilty verdict will mean an automatic death sentence for the defendant, a Puerto Rican youth accused of killing his father. Once in the stiflingly hot jury room, Juror 3, a middle-aged businessman who is estranged from his own son, loudly proclaims that the boy is guilty and that all ghetto youths are criminals, while Juror 7, a fast-talking salesman, wants the jury to reach a decision quickly because he wishes to attend a baseball game that evening. Juror 1, the foreman, who is a genial high school football coach, conducts a preliminary ballot and, without hesitation, eleven jurors vote for conviction. Juror 8, a sensitive and thoughtful architect, casts the only dissenting vote, stating that he has doubts about the case and wishes to give the boy, who has had a difficult life in the ghetto, a fair hearing. Juror 10, approximately sixty years old and the owner of a garage, gruffly declares that the architect is a weak-willed "bleeding heart" before launching into a diatribe against slum dwellers. Wishing to restore calm, Juror 12, a young advertising executive, suggests that each juror present the reasons behind his verdict as a means of convincing Juror 8. The salesman, the garage owner and the businessman all suggest that the boy's ethnicity and class have been enough to convince them he murdered his father, while Juror 2, a shy and stammering bank clerk, appears to be maintaining his guilty verdict because he feels intimidated by the more outspoken jurors. Juror 4, a middle-aged and articulate stockbroker, and Juror 6, a young blue-collar worker, go over the evidence which determined their verdicts with much detail and thought. The prosecution has presented two seemingly reliable eyewitnesses, and motivation for the murder was suggested by the youth's frequent fights with his father. In addition, a shopkeeper identified the murder weapon as identical to an unusual and ornately carved knife he had sold the boy shortly before the murder. Finishing his exposition, Juror 4 offhandedly remarks that "everyone knows slums breed criminals," leading Juror 5, who until this point has remained silent, to declare with great dignity that he was raised in a slum. After Juror 8 points out inconsistencies in the prosecution's case and raises a number of questions, he throws down a cheap knife he bought near the courthouse which appears almost identical to the murder weapon. As many of the jurors begin to grow frustrated with the discussion, Juror 8 suggests that the foreman take a secret ballot from which he will abstain, promising that if all of them vote guilty this time, he will go along with them on the final ballot. Now, however, one juror out of the eleven votes "not guilty." Most of the jurors believe that Juror 5 has changed his mind, but the "not guilty" vote turns out to be that of Juror 9, an elderly and frail man to whom the jurors have, until now, paid little attention. After tempers have cooled down, Jurors 8 and 9 point out the inconsistencies in the prosecution's version of events on the night of the murder, and Juror 9 is especially convincing when he notes problems with the testimony of a prosecution witness who, like himself, is elderly. The two men manage to sway Jurors 5 and 11 to their side, for a total of four "not guilty" verdicts. Juror 10 now explodes with anger over what he views as "nitpicking" and Juror 3 harasses Juror 11, an Eastern European refugee, for changing his mind. After tempers subside, the weary jury continues its deliberations and when another ballot is taken, the tally is six to six, with Jurors 2 and 6 changing their original verdicts. Now at a complete standstill, some of the jurors want to declare a hung jury, but know that the judge will not accept the declaration without further deliberations. When Juror 11, who takes his duty as a citizen very seriously, questions whether all of the jurors have a clear understanding of "reasonable doubt," the obnoxious Juror 7 makes an angry speech full of anti-immigrant invective. Next, the newly confident Juror 2 asks how a 5'6" boy could have made a downward stab wound on a man who stood 6'2", leading Juror 5, who saw many a knife fight in the tough neighborhood in which he was raised, to convincingly demonstrate that the boy would most likely have held the knife underhanded, making a downward wound impossible. The foreman and Juror 12 eventually vote "not guilty," as does Juror 7, whose lack of concern over the case and desire to do whatever is most expedient greatly angers Juror 11, the immigrant. When Juror 8 asks the three remaining jurors to explain their continued insistence on a guilty verdict, Juror 10 makes an angry speech so full of hate and bigotry that everyone is shocked into silence. Juror 4, earlier so confident that the boy was guilty, admits he has reasonable doubt when the astute Juror 9 suddenly remembers that a female prosecution eyewitness had impressions on the sides of her nose of the sort left by eyeglasses. In support of their "not guilty" verdicts, the jurors realize that the witness deceived the court by taking off her glasses prior to her court appearance and they surmise that she was most likely not wearing them in bed the night she claimed to have witnessed the murder. Since Juror 10, who remains separated from the group because of shame over his outburst, has indicated he will change his vote, Juror 3 now stands alone in his conviction that the boy is guilty and he becomes increasingly belligerent and stubborn. When a picture of his son, who is only a few years older than the accused, unexpectedly falls out of his wallet, he suddenly breaks down into sobs and exclaims that all children are rotten ingrates. Overcome with emotion and guilt at the memory of his son, who rejected his harsh and authoritarian manner, he finally whispers "not guilty." As the jurors silently file out of the jury room, Juror 8 gently hands the distressed man his jacket. On the courthouse steps, Juror 8 and Juror 9 bid farewell, secure in the knowledge that they helped to ensure that personal prejudices did not determine the fate of the accused.
Lee J. Cobb
E. G. Marshall
James A. Kelly
James A. Gleason
Best Adapted Screenplay
12 Angry Men
Fonda had been a fan of Reginald Rose's teleplay since its original broadcast in 1954, and the two raised the $350,000 shooting budget for 12 Angry Men by themselves. To direct the project, Fonda tapped a young television veteran who "had the reputation of being wonderful with actors," and with those sentiments launched the distinguished film career of Sidney Lumet. The producer and director then turned to Broadway and culled some of the finest character talent working in order to round out the cast.
12 Angry Men opens in a New York courtroom, as a ghetto teenager's trial for the murder of his father winds down, and the presiding judge charges the jury with their obligations. The panel retires to a cramped, muggy jury room, where the majority of them are prepared to deem the case open and shut, and return to their lives. The sole holdout is a thoughtful architect (Fonda), who balks less from any certainty of the boy's innocence than his perception that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of establishing the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
After the collective groan of his fellows, Fonda determinedly revisits the state's evidence, and the progressing story lays bare previously unconsidered flaws in the district attorney's case, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of character of the furiously debating veniremen. Blowing hardest are a pair of self-made entrepreneurs (Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley), each with a disturbing agenda underlying their bullheadedness. Other tough nuts include a coldly rational stockbroker (E.G. Marshall) and a blustering salesman (Jack Warden) whose overreaching concern seems to be getting to that night's Yankees game.
All deliver strong efforts, as do Martin Balsam, as the amiable if feckless jury foreman; Jack Klugman, as a man self-conscious of his own roots in the slums; facile adman Robert Webber; George Voskovec, as an immigrant watchmaker more conscious of his civic duties than some of his native peers; surprisingly cagey retiree Joseph Sweeney; meek bank teller John Fiedler; and dull-if-honorable day laborer Edward Binns.
During rehearsals, Lumet and cinematographer Boris Kaufman set up their shots in an actual NYC jury room, blueprinting 365 separate takes from every aspect of the claustrophobic set. The end result, after only 17 days of shooting, is a masterful job of spare, lean black and white filmmaking, crafted in an era when big screens, big locales and bold color were deemed an absolute necessity.
The first-time producer and first-time director had their share of tensions, as Lumet recounted for Howard Teichmann, co-author of Fonda: My Life (New American Library, 1981). Before the first day's shooting, Fonda blew up over the quality of the painted backdrop that represented the room's view onto Foley Square, and the first shot taken - an overhead through the blades of a ceiling fan - turned out to be an all-day affair. "We went to the rushes the next noon," Lumet recalled, "and he said, 'Sidney, what am I going to do? I can't stand seeing myself on the screen. I never go to rushes, and sometimes I wait two years to see a finished film I've made'...
"Hank steeled himself, walked into the projection room and sat down behind me. He watched for a while, and then he put his hand on the back of my neck and squeezed so hard I thought my eyes would pop out. He leaned forward and said quietly, 'Sidney, it's magnificent.' Then he dashed out and never came to the rushes again."
Fonda's ambition for 12 Angry Men was to open the film small, and watch it build from art-house to popular success in an arc similar to that of another acclaimed adapted TV play, Marty (1955). The front office at United Artists, pleased as they were with the quality of the finished project, opted instead for a wide release on Easter Week. Fonda grimly recalled in his autobiography how New York's now-gone Capitol Theatre "had over forty-six hundred seats. The opening day 12 Angry Men barely filled the first four or five rows. They pulled it after a week."
While 12 Angry Men didn't even recoup its modest production costs in its theatrical run, the film went on to (fittingly) see some measure of justice in its uniform critical praise, its capture of First Prize at the Berlin Film festival and other international awards, its Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay, and its enduring acknowledgment as a classic of cinema.
Producer: Reginald Rose, Henry Fonda
Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: Reginald Rose
Art Direction: Robert Markel
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Editing: Carl Lerner
Music: Kenyon Hopkins
Cast: Henry Fonda (Juror #8), Lee J. Cobb (Juror #3), Ed Begley, Sr. (Juror No. 10), E.G. Marshall (Juror #4), Jack Klugman (Juror #5), Jack Warden (Juror #7), Martin Balsam (Juror #1), John Fiedler (Juror #2), Ed Binns (Juror #6), Robert Webber (Juror #12).
by Jay Steinberg
12 Angry Men
12 Angry Men - Henry Fonda in 12 ANGRY MEN, Directed by Sidney Lumet - The Criterion Collection Edition
The movie version of 12 Angry Men marked the beginning of an important film career in director Sidney Lumet. It also represents the birth of semi-independent New York art filmmaking, America's most successful answer to the European art film. Actor Henry Fonda saw Reginald Rose's play as the perfect star vehicle, a movie that points up social problems but ends on a note of hope and affirmation: the system can work if normal citizens do their job. Sold to United Artists on Fonda's name and the mini-trend of TV dramas being up-scaled to the big screen (Paddy Chayefsky's Marty; Rod Serling's Patterns), 12 Angry Men was filmed on a small budget that precluded the hiring of a name director. This frugality gave the ambitious, hard-working TV director Sidney Lumet his big chance. Lumet applied himself to the daunting task of making an interesting show full-length feature twelve men sitting and standing around a table.
The story almost plays out in real time. Sent to the jury room to deliberate on the fate of a boy (John Savoca) accused of killing his father with a knife, eleven of twelve jurors quickly decide on a guilty verdict. The holdout, juror #8 (Henry Fonda) doesn't think this is decent and asks that they discuss the case first. Over the course of the afternoon and early evening Juror 8 raises doubts as to the veracity of the witnesses' stories. He reaches some of his fellow jurors, but has a tough time with Jurors #3 and #10 (Lee J. Cobb & Ed Begley). As it turns out, both men are acting on strong prejudices that have nothing to do with the merits of the defendant's case.
Alfred Hitchcock took on the challenge of shooting an entire film in the confines of a drifting Lifeboat but Lumet's job is more difficult. There's nothing particularly interesting or dramatic about the jury-room setting, even if a rainstorm breaks the monotony in the third act. Lumet moves his camera when his characters move, takes his time to establish each man's personality, and carefully organizes his shots so that the angles become tighter and the cuts more frequent as the room temperature, and the juror's tempers, rise. By staying fairly loose and neutral at the beginning, he allows us to size up the dozen jurors. We can see for ourselves which juror is passive and which is aggressive; which take the case to heart and which just want to be finished and go home.
The notions brought out by author Rose aren't very flattering. On one level the jury isn't much better than a mob -- most of these men are quite willing to go along with the perceived majority opinion without really thinking about the case. Only when challenged to actually apply themselves to their appointed task do the sensitive thinkers advance their personal opinions. The defendant is very lucky to have such an ethical fellow as Juror 8 on the jury bench.
Rose's script manages the attitudes and temperaments of the jurors beautifully, using a sort of "business as usual" approach. It is 'under-acting' in that each juror doesn't walk around showing his emotions on his face -- most of the time they mostly look bored or inconvenienced. This allows Rose a strong dramatic contrast for his one-two punch of liberal moralizing (the good kind). One of the obstinate 'hanging jurors' turns out to be motivated by ethnic prejudice. The other has a bad case of '50s New York Writer Dramatic Distemper (NYWDD): a fierce (Freudian?) anger over his relationship with his own son makes him want to punish the young defendant.
12 Angry Men plays like a house afire to young and old alike, even if some viewers will make unhappy noises over the fact that both of the "villain" jurors are conservative bigots. Interestingly, the movie has a couple of problems that the original teleplay does not. First, making Henry Fonda into Juror #8 naturally lessens any fear we might have that right may not prevail. Never mind that Fonda's heroes in socially conscious Hollywood classics were usually ineffectual losers or inspirational martyrs: Eddie Taylor in You Only Live Once, Marco in Blockade, Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, Gil Carter in The Ox-Bow Incident. Juror 8 is calm and self-possessed when opposing his eleven discontented peers. Integrity surrounds him like an aura. We know darn well that he will prevail.
Secondly, in the teleplay we never see the accused. Lumet's movie instead begins with a big close-up of the sad-looking (Puerto Rican?) boy in the first scene. He does not look like a stereotypical kill-crazy juvenile delinquent. Therefore we can identify various jurors' attitudes as rank insensitivity from the very beginning. Nobody seems to care that this helpless-looking kid is facing the execution chamber. When Juror 10 suddenly leaps up and states his prejudice against "those people", we aren't surprised. I have to think that 12 Angry Men would work better if we had no idea what kind of fellow the accused was, as in the teleplay. Each of us would be inventing his own image of the defendant in our mind.
The film gives the audience a bracing morale boost, while warning us that jury duty is a major responsibility that requires us to be better citizens. In 1957 the cast consisted mostly of unfamiliar names. E.G. Marshall had been in a number of pictures and Ed Begley and Lee J. Cobb were well known character actors. Most of the others were familiar mostly to viewers of live TV (Jack Klugman, George Voskovek, Joseph Sweeney) or crime dramas (Edward Binns). Now of course, they all look like old friends -- a notable victim of Norman Bates (Martin Balsam), a funny card player from The Odd Couple (John Fiedler), a budding tough guy (Robert Webber). With its excellent performances and dynamic direction by Sidney Lumet, 12 Angry Men is indeed a dramatic stand-out.
Criterion's Blu-ray of 12 Angry Men frames Sidney Lumet's first theatrical feature at an eye-pleasing 1:66. Compositions look good as Lumet slowly tightens the framing, and the tension rises in the jury room. Boris Kaufman's B&W camerawork grows darker as the afternoon shifts from sweltering heat to a summer downpour. We feel the sweat in the room, without the actors' having to overstate their discomfort. Kenyon Hopkins' simple music score is used quite sparingly. It's almost completely unobtrusive, sounding a note of moral gravity and underscoring some of the more violent moments.
Disc producer Kim Hendrickson has scoured archives for appropriate extras and taped new interviews to fill in the gaps. We have the entire original 1954 Franklin Schaffner TV drama for comparison, in a fairly intact kinescope. Its main stars are Bob Cummings, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold and John Beal. Also present is Tragedy in a Temporary Town, another writing-directing team effort by Reginald Rose and Sidney Lumet. It is a liberal TV drama about mob psychology, starring Lloyd Bridges.
Director Lumet appears in an archived interview. Writer Walter Bernstein remembers how Lumet helped keep blacklisted writers working in New York TV. A very good docu-featurette tells the production history of both versions of the play, while Paley Center curator Ron Simon offers a nice overview of the under-appreciated writer Reginald Rose. Cameraman John Bailey speaks in a testimonial interview-essay about the legendary cameraman Boris Kaufman, the genius who shot the great films of J ean Vigo. Thane Rosenbaum provides program notes for Criterion's insert booklet.
For more information about 12 Angry Men, visit The Criterion Collection. To order 12 Angry Men, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
12 Angry Men - Henry Fonda in 12 ANGRY MEN, Directed by Sidney Lumet - The Criterion Collection Edition
Well, I'm not used to supposin'. I'm just a workin' man. My boss does all the supposin' -- but I'll try one. Supposin' you talk us all out of this and, uh, the kid really did knife his father?- Juror #6
Bright? He's a common ignorant slob. He don't even speak good English.- Juror #10
Doesn't even speak good English.- Juror #11
I don't understand you people! I mean all these picky little points you keep bringing up. They don't mean nothin'. You saw this kid just like I did. You're not gonna tell me you believe that phony story about losing the knife, and that business about being at the movies. Look, you know how these people lie! It's born in them! I mean what the heck?! I don't even have to tell you. They don't know what the truth is! And, lemme tell you, they don't need any real big reason to kill someone, either! No sir!- Juror #10
You know, they get drunk,...oh, they're very big drinkers, all of 'em, and bang: someone's lyin' in the gutter. Oh, nobody's blaming them for it. That's how they are! By nature! You know what I mean? VIOLENT!- Juror #10
Human life don't mean as much to them as it does to us!- Juror #10
Hey! Where are you going?! (Beginning to sound desperate.) Look, these people're lushing it up and fighting all the time and if somebody gets killed, so somebody gets killed! They don't care! Oh, sure, there are some good things about 'em, too. Look, I'm the first one to say that.- Juror #10
I've known a couple who were OK, but that's the exception, y'know what I mean?- Juror #10
It's very hard to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And no matter where you run into it, prejudice obscures the truth. Well, I don't think any real damage has been done here. Because I don't really know what the truth is. No one ever will, I suppose. Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent, but we're just gambling on probabilities. We may be wrong. We may be trying to return a guilty man to the community. No one can really know. But we have a reasonable doubt, and this is a safeguard which has enormous value to our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it's SURE. We nine can't understand how you three are still so sure. Maybe you can tell us.- Juror #8
Hey, what's your name?- Juror #9
Davis.- Juror #8
Mine's McCardle.- Juror #9
Well, so long.- Juror #9
When first broadcast as a teleplay on TV's "Studio One" on 20 September 1954, the jurors were Norman Fell, John Beal, Franchot Tone, Walter Abel, Lee Philips, Bart Burns, Paul Hartman, 'Cummings, Robert' , Joseph Sweeney, Edward Arnold, George Voskovek, Will West. Joseph Sweeney and George Voskovek were the only two actors to reprise their roles for the film.
As shooting of the film went on, director Sidney Lumet gradually changed to lenses of longer focal lengths, so that the backgrounds seemed to close in on the characters, creating a greater feeling of claustrophobia.
Lee J. Cobb makes a reference to Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The (1956). Both he and Joseph Sweeney (Juror #9) had roles in that movie.
For many years, only the first half of the kinescope of the live 1954 TV version of "12 Angry Men" upon which this movie version is based (shown in the series "Studio One" (1948)) was thought to survive, and had been in the possession of the Museum of Television & Radio since 1976. In 2003 a complete 16mm kinescope was discovered in the collection of Samuel Liebowitz (former defense attorney and judge) and was also acquired by the museum.
Jack Klugman played Oscar Madison in the TV version of "The Odd Couple", one episode of which, "The Jury Story", is a spoof of "12 Angry Men".
Aside from an opening montage inside the courthouse, the Judge's instructions to the jury and the final scene of the film, all of the action takes place within the confines of the Jury Room. Twelve Angry Men was shot entirely in New York City and the opening and closing exteriors depict Foley Square. According to a Hollywood Reporter article dated April 1957, the film was rehearsed and shot in a little over a month, at a cost of $340,000.
The television production of 12 Angry Men, upon which the film was based, starred Robert Cummings and Franchot Tone, and was awarded an Emmy for Best Television Play of the 1954-55 season. Actors Joseph Sweeney and George Voskovec were the only actors from the teleplay to recreate their roles for the feature film. According to a modern source, Reginald Rose had cut twenty minutes from his original play for its television performance and did not add any new material for the film version, which he also wrote. Henry Fonda and Reginald Rose combined the names of their respective companies, Orion and Nova, for the production of this film.
12 Angry Men (written as Twelve Angry Men in some sources) marked Sidney Lumet's directing debut. According to a biography of Fonda, Fonda hired Lumet because he had extensive experience in television and had a reputation for staying on schedule and within a budget. Both Fonda and Rose deferred their salaries for the film. Daily Variety reported that although a year and a half after the film's release the two producers had yet to receive even half of their fees, they had been successful in selling European theatrical rights to producer Lars Schmidt.
Although the film received rave reviews and was nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay), it did only modest business, grossing a total of $1,000,000, according to a Variety news item dated March 1958. 12 Angry Men won the Writer's Guild of America Award for Best Film and was also exceptionally popular with foreign critics. It won top awards from the British Film Academy, as well as from the Italian and Polish Film Critics Associations and the Berlin Film Festival.
As noted in an August 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, the State Bar Associations of all of the [then] forty-eight states were given preview showings of the picture prior to its press previews. Subsequent to the film's release, the American Bar Association honored the film for "contributing to greater public understanding and appreciation of the American system of justice." In 2007 12 Angry Men was ranked 87th on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies-10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films.
A Hollywood Reporter news item, dated May 1966, noted that 12 Angry Men had long been used as an industrial training aid for corporate managers studying the interaction, emotions and prejudices of group decision making. According to his autobiography, Fonda was disappointed with United Artists' distribution strategy and felt that the studio's approach had deprived the film of a chance at financial success. In particular, Fonda noted that United Artists placed 12 Angry Men in theaters too large for a "small" film to fill and, in addition, did not rerelease it after it won numerous awards.
In 1991, Japan's Argo Project, Inc. released a comic reworking of the film, Juninin no Yasashii Nihonjin, or Twelve Gentle Japanese. In this version, eleven of the jurors are initially prepared to acquit, until the lone holdout gradually convinces each of them that the defendant is a cold-blooded killer. A more traditional remake of 12 Angry Men aired on Showtime in 1997, directed by William Friedkin and starring Jack Lemmon as Juror 8.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1957 National Board of Review.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1957 New York Times Film Critics.
Winner of the 1957 Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay--Drama.
Winner of the Audience Award at the 2008 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
Winner of the fgolden Bear for Best Picture and the Catholic Film Office Award at the 1957 Berlin Film Festival.
Released in United States 1957
Released in United States Spring April 1957
Shown at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Official Selection - Out of Competition) July 4-12, 2008.
Shown at the 1957 Berlin Film Festival.
Shown at Venice International Film Festival (Competition) August 29-September 8, 2007.
Loose remake of "12 Angry Men" (USA/1957) directed by Sidney Lumet.
Released in United States 1957 (Shown at the 1957 Berlin Film Festival.)
Released in United States Spring April 1957
Feature directorial debut for Sidney Lumet.
Film was shot in 19 days.