On release the movie was well received by the critics but fared poorly at the box-office.Although nominated for Academy Awards in three categories: Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing of Adapted Screenplay, it lost in all three to David Lean's lush, Technicolor epic, 'The Bridge on the River Kwai'.
It has since come to be regarded as a classic, a cinematic masterpiece. It was ranked by the American Film Institute at number 87 in their list of greatest American films, and in 2007 it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Perhaps its most important accolade came from the American Bar Association who praised the movie for its contribution to a "greater public understanding and appreciation of the American system of justice."
PlotThe movie opens with a brief scene in an American courtroom where the judge sends the jury out to deliberate a murder case. The remainder of the movie takes place in the jury room where initially 11 of the 12 jurors are convinced of the defendant's guilt. The stand out is Juror number 8, played by Henry Fonda who believes that there is ample room for doubt. He leads a powerful and entertaining discussion of the evidence against the defendant, wherein each juror is encouraged to have his say.
As the different parts of the evidence are discussed we get to know about the case and about the individual jurors, who have very different backgrounds and attitudes. Gradually and one by one, each of the twelve come round to the view that there is "reasonable doubt" and that their verdict should therefore be Not Guilty.
ProductionThe movie was written by Reginald Rose originally as a play for television and it was broadcast on the small screen in 1954 on the CBS Studio One anthology television series. Henry Fonda was struck by the powerful drama and he saw an obvious role for himself as the calm, honest and dignified Juror number 8. Fonda approached Reginald Rose about expanding the television play into a feature film. Fonda put his own money into the project and became co-producer with Rose. Two of the original television cast, Joseph Sweeney as juror No. 9 and George Voskovic as the immigrant juror No. 11, were cast in the same roles for the movie.
'12 Angry Men' was Sidney Lumet's first venture into filmmaking. He had built a first class reputation as a television director who was able to keep to a budget. He justified Fonda's faith in him by completing the movie in the remarkably short time of 19 days and on a rock-bottom budget of $350,000 and he went on to become one of the most influential movie directors of his generation.
The screenplay, adapted from the television play by Rose is brilliantly economical. The film is unusual in that virtually all the action is verbal and the whole takes place in one room. Rose resisted the temptation to use flashbacks to tell the story of the murder and all the events and witness statements are conveyed to the audience through the dialogue. Lumet worked closely with the cinematographer, Boris Kaufman and skilfully used clever camera angles and different depths of focus to maintain interest. The two experimented with their shots in an actual New York jury room to achieve greater realism.
Main CastThe acting is uniformly superb and is one of the factors which makes the movie soar. The superstar name is Fonda's but most of the cast made their mark on Hollywood and became extremely well known. Each cast member has his moment in the spotlight.
Martin Balsam ... Juror 1
John Fiedler ... Juror 2
Lee J. Cobb ... Juror 3
E.G. Marshall ... Juror 4
Jack Klugman ... Juror 5
Edward Binns ... Juror 6
Jack Warden ... Juror 7
Henry Fonda ... Juror 8
Joseph Sweeney ... Juror 9
Ed Begley ... Juror 10
George Voskovec ... Juror 11
Robert Webber ... Juror 12
Rudy Bond ... Judge (uncredited)
James Kelly ... Guard (uncredited)
Billy Nelson ... Court Clerk (uncredited)
John Savoca ... The Accused (uncredited)
Martin Balsam (1919-1996) He brilliantly played the difficult role of a jury foreman who is not up to the job. He became a well known face on both the small and big screen and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1965 for his performance in 'A Thousand Clowns'.
John Fiedler (1925-2005) Plays a timid and irresolute juror 2 who quickly changes his verdict when others do so. Fielder was a hard-working Hollywood actor who later found fame as Mr Peterson on the 'Bob Newhart Show' and with Walt Disney as the high pitched voice of Piglet.
Lee J. Cobb (1911-1976) Cobb was one of Hollywood's greatest character actors and his performance here of a bullying but inwardly tormented juror 3 is memorable. He had a distinguished Broadway career including playing Willy Loman in the original 1949 production of Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman', a part which Miller said he wrote for Cobb. He had a long and successful movie career and was nominated twice for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, for 'On the Waterfront' in 1954 and 'The Brothers Kamarazov' in 1958 and 1959.
E.G. Marshall (1914-1998) Marshall plays the coldly rational juror 4 who is one of the last to change his verdict. In 1948 he was one of the first group in the Actors Studio in New York and he went on to a highly successful Broadway career. He achieved television fame in the 1960's with his role as Lawrence Preston in 'The Defenders'.
Jack Klugman (1922-2012) Juror 5 Juror 5 represents the poor, underprivileged Jewish worker, somewhat out of his depth and so, insecure and cowed by his more aggressive fellow jurors. Jack Klugman achieved great fame when he replaced Walter Matthau in the Broadway production of 'The Odd Couple' and then reprised the role in a 5 year run on television. He also starred in the highly successful and long-running television series 'Quincy, M.E.'
Edward Binns (1916-1990) As Juror 6, Edward Binns had the difficult job of appearing to be a slow, plodding dull-witted worker, which he did extremely well. Binns was one of the original members of the 1948 Actors Studio and he went on to have a highly successful career on stage, theater and television.
Jack Warden (1920-2006) Playing the baseball-obsessed salesman juror 7 who shows no empathy with the plight of the defendant, Warden keeps a fine balance between tragedy and comedy. During a long career he appeared in over 100 movies and was twice nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performances in 'Shampoo' in 1975 and 'Heaven Can Wait' in 1978.
Henry Fonda (1905-1982) As juror 8 Fonda plays the instigator of the jury reconsideration of the case. It is a natural role for him, as the calm, rational everyman who wins the others over with his his persistence and rational arguments. Fonda was already a superstar of Hollywood after magnificent performances in such films as 'Young Mr Lincoln' in 1935, 'The Grapes of Wrath' in 1940 and 'Mister Roberts' in 1948. He went on to end a glorious career with a Best Actor Oscar for 'On Golden Pond' in 1981.
Joseph Sweeney (1884-1963) Sweeney plays Juror 9, the oldest juror and the fairest minded after Fonda. He is the first to alter his verdict. Sweeney was a prolific stage, movie and television actor and he created the role of Juror 9 in the original television play from which the movie was adapted.
Ed Begley (1901-1970) Begley plays juror 10, the most bigoted juror of all. He gives a maniacal tirade expounding and attempting to justify his prejudices, causing the others to stand and turn their backs on him and on what he stands for. It is a powerful moment in a powerful film. Begley began his acting career in vaudeville in 1931 and moved into radio work and became a highly regarded stage actor. He became well known as a movie and television actor and in 1962 he was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance in Tennessee Williams's 'Sweet Bird of Youth'.
George Voskovec (1905-1981) Juror 11 represents the immigrant American. He speaks with great sincerity and is far more respectful to the traditions of his adopted country than many of the other jurors. George Voskovec came from Bohemia, Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic) and emigrated to America after the German invasion. He had been a well known face in his native country and he went on to become highly successful in America on stage, screen and television.
Robert Webber (1924-1989) Juror 12 is a smooth-talking businessman who is more concerned with himself than with the fate of the defendant. Robert Webber had a long and successful career as a character actor, firstly in movies and then for many years in television.
CreditsDirector ... Sidney Lumet
Producer ... Henry Fonda, Reginald Rose
Screenplay ... Reginald Rose
Music ... Kenyon Hopkins
Cinematography ... Boris Kaufman
Distributed by United Artists
Release date ... April 13, 1957
Running time ... 96 minutes
Academy AwardsNo Wins:
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Henry Fonda, Reginald Rose
Best Director ... Sydney Lumet
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium ...Reginald Rose