Category Archives: 12 Angry Men
With this year’s Academy Awards telecast set to grace our televisions in just a few weeks, I thought we’d have a look back at the films that the Academy has seen fit to declare the Best Picture of each year and let you readers rank them by decade in retrospect. We’ve taken advantage of hindsight (I hear it might be 20/20) and thrown our two cents in on the era of the Great Depression and the period of the Second World War already. Now it’s time for that glorious time of prosperity, the “I Like Ike” 1950s in which so many of the roots of the pop culture we still enjoy began to spring up.
Below, you’ll find a short write-up on each of the Oscar winning films of the decade and an opportunity to rank them first through tenth. If you haven’t seen some of them, you should still feel free to rank the ones you have seen and the rest either by understood reputation or whatever other criteria makes sense to you. Modernity and traditionalism are pulling against one another here. Line up and give one side a little tug.
“Okay, who’s been in some other movies?”
In January of last year, I set out to write profiles for a dozen remarkable actors. Researching and sharing my thoughts about the cast of one of my favorite films, the Reginald Rose/Sidney Lumet/Henry Fonda jury room drama 12 Angry Men was a very rewarding experience. So when I finally posted my article about Juror #12, played by Robert Webber, I decided not to let the project go just yet. Okay, so that was more than six months ago. Life (and an as-yet unabated obsession with the Simpsons “Tapped Out” game) can get in the way.
One of the great pleasures of the 12 Angry Men project has been catching up on some of the films these men have performed in over their careers which I had not seen yet. But while there have been plenty of hits, there have also been several misses. What I’d like to do is to narrow down the offhanded recommendations I made over the course of the previous 12 articles into 12 recommended films which include appearances by jurors 1 through 12.
“What’s the point of having witnesses at all!”
Robert Webber as Juror #12 is the guy who many of us must admit that we would be in a similar situation. He genuinely wants to do the right thing, but he honestly can’t figure out what that is. This second-rate Don Draper is far more comfortable making decisions when the stakes aren’t so high and when a dopey joke can win the day. Webber’s well-placed idiosyncrasies take one of the characters with a less central role and gives him a variety and depth that could easily have been missing.
“What kind of man are you?”
Juror #11 is perhaps simultaneously the most broadly and most subtly written character in Reginald Rose’s legal drama 12 Angry Men. He’s the “noble and respectful Eastern European artisan immigrant,” a character type we’ve all seen a hundred times. You could cast Gepetto in the role if you wanted to. But his immigrant status is barely alluded to, and it sharply informs some of the conversations being had in the jury room. The other members of the jury appear to talk around him, avoiding him, ignoring him, or (maybe unintentionally) patronizing him. None of them really know how to deal with him. Next time you see the film, put the word “commie” in a thought bubble each time one of the other characters is looking at or speaking to him. Remember that the Army-McCarthy hearings had occurred just three years prior, and McCarthy himself had died of hepatitis earlier the same year. The HUAC-motivated Hollywood blacklist was still in effect. Any man of eastern European extraction was still subject to silent suspicion. Juror #11 could be forgiven if he just kept his mouth shut…or if he lost his patience and started shouting at everybody. The only fellow juror he eventually takes to task is #7, who doesn’t seem to care whether justice is served or not. He cares deeply that the jury does its job faithfully and honestly. This character personifies many of the strengths of both the United States’ open society and the jury system.
What’re you so polite about?
Ed Begley plays the one truly unlikable character in 12 Angry Men as the bigoted “Juror #10.” The wonderful thing about Begley’s performance is that he gives us a guy who clearly thinks that he is perfectly reasonable, and that he’s just saying what the other guys are probably thinking. Juror #10 is brusk and irritable, nursing a very aggravating “Summer cold,” coughing, wheezing, sweating, and quickly losing his temper. Like many bullies of his type, when he meets his comeuppance (one of the signature moments of the film), he collapses in an uncomprehending heap, unable to reconcile the man he believes he is with the man he has shown himself to be. At that moment, I find myself musing that this guy is probably somebody’s favorite uncle. Hey, he does try to tell a joke at one point.
I think certain things should be pointed out to this man”
Joseph Sweeney’s “Juror #9” is the first to reverse field and support Juror #8’s plea for a more detailed deliberation. He does so not because he has been convinced that the boy is not guilty, but because he recognizes that it is the right thing to do. A rush to judgment is just what the whole legal system was created to avoid. He quickly becomes one of Juror #8’s strongest allies, though, as the imperfect and sometimes twisted arguments for conviction are gradually shown for what they are. Like Juror #2, he tends to be ignored or taken for granted by some others in the room, and he often finds that he must stand up and shout just be allowed to speak his mind. Sweeny’s character brings these experiences to some of the key questions about important prosecution witnesses, and helps to turn the tide.
You’re a sadist.
Henry Fonda’s “Juror #8” (or “Davis” as he finally introduces himself) is the ostensible hero of “12 Angry Men,” the individual who initially stands alone against derision, impatience, apathy and hate. All of this is true, but the real triumph of Fonda’s character is that he succeeds in bringing out the best in some of the men around him, allowing them to become heroes in their own rights. What is remarkable in Fonda’s performance is his rare ability to embody humble integrity, even in moments when the character is kind of being a pompous jerk. Next time you see the film, consider his actions from moment to moment rather than as a whole, and you will see a man who is willing to get his hands dirty in service to an ideal. Despite Juror #7’s pronouncement that he has the “soft sell,” Fonda’s character is neither subtle, nor kind when arguing his case with sledgehammers like jurors 3 & 10. If you want an omelette, you gotta break a few eggs.
That’s like bein’ hit in the head with a crowbar once a day.
Jack Warden offers the lion’s share of the comic relief to “12 Angry Men” as Yankee fan and marmalade salesman “Juror #7.” He also paints a disturbing portrait of just how contemptible a supercilious man can be. The hard-sell, good-time smart aleck is probably the life of any party, but you have to wonder how many people actually let him into their lives as a friend. He is so bemused by the delay in what he has assumed is an open-and-shut case, that the only thing he knows to do is to sit back and entertain himself the best he can. Notice how many times the words “he” and “himself” show up in that sentence. Warden’s timing is superb, and his callow take on the character is a lynchpin of the film’s story. It can be argued that nobody got nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar from “12 Angry Men” because the votes got split 11 ways, but when push comes to shove this is the guy who fills me with dread.
You say stuff like that to him again…I’m gonna lay you out.
Edward Binns as juror #6 in “12 Angry Men” experiences the happenings of the jury room from the point of view of the audience, but gets the chance to intervene as well. At the beginning, he is just as sure as the others about the defendant’s guilt. His scene with Fonda’s Juror #8 in the washroom telling him to “wrap it up” reflects the impatience of most of the jury, but what ends up sticking with the viewer is a later scene in which he sticks up for a fellow juror against a bully. The house painter is just as tired and fed up as the rest of the men, but he takes the job seriously and his blue-collar ideas of what is just end up informing the proceedings.
“Oh, now, there was something personal!”
“Juror #5,” as played by Jack Klugman in “12 Angry Men,” comes across initially as a quiet, humble man who genuinely does not wish to make waves. It’s probably the only reason the prosecution let him through when it came time to choose the jury. Either that, or they were out of exceptions. It pains him to admit to the rest of the men that he has been a lifelong resident of a slum, but when the neighborhood the boy lives in is cited as proof of his guilt, he cannot help but speak up. Then, his expertise on what a knife fight looks like becomes very important.
“Now sit down and don’t say another word.”
E.G. Marshall makes an indelible print on “12 Angry Men.” His performance as “Juror #4” is both haunting and heartening. He displays the kind of tough-minded, exacting approach that should accompany any important endeavour. And he nearly puts it to use against justice.
*Warning, this article contains spoilers for “Creepshow” and “Absolute Power.”*
“WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU GUYS? You all know he’s guilty. He’s got to burn!”
In “12 Angry Men,” Lee J Cobb carries more than his fair share of “angry” as “Juror #3.” The question is: “what is he really angry about?” When somebody declares from the beginning that he has no personal feelings about something, you can bet the farm on the opposite being true. The moment one of his fellow jurors suggests that the defendant may not be as guilty as he seems, this guy’s blood begins to boil. The volcano that is Lee J Cobb takes center stage throughout much of the film. It is a part he was born to play.