Review: 12 Angry Men (1957)


Maybe 11 Angry Men would have been more apropos!

Screenplay By: Reginald Rose
Directed By: Sidney Lumet

I was one of the many kids back in junior high who felt he was being forced to watch some stodgy and boring black and white film in Mrs. Germac’s English class. I have the uneasy feeling that the rest of the kids left feeling like two hours of their lives had been taken away from them. I had quite the opposite reaction, within a few minutes I was taken by the presentation, the cleverness of the story, the interaction of the characters. I didn’t find the movie stodgy or boring in any way, but a revelation in my movie watching life. 12 Angry Men is a special film, it is one of those rare stage plays on camera that works to complete perfection.

To call 12 Angry Men simplistic would be an understatement, but what some people seem to forget is that there can always be greatness in simplicity. One room is the setting for ninety nine percent of 12 Angry Men, but it is the only setting that you need. 12 Angry Men isn’t a movie about locations or great cinematography, it is a movie about ideas, suspense and the interactions between men. 12 Angry Men is a great idea movie, forcing all those who witness it to reevaluate the way they think about certain things, or at the very least causing them to think twice about that next open and shut case of whatever they may come across. The main idea behind 12 Angry Men is one of open mindedness and it is conveyed in a simple fashion. One man with an open mind against eleven others with closed off minds. He does win them over one by one, but what makes his victory believable is that he doesn’t do so easily. He has to fight to convince them, and sometimes he can’t do the fighting, others have to do it for him because he can’t see why the closed minded thinkers might be wrong. It is in that focus, in that give and take that 12 Angry Men pulls every viewer in and refuses to let them go.

In a movie such as 12 Angry Men the acting is paramount and there may not ever be a better ensemble cast as there was in this movie. Yes, Henry Fonda is the lead, but he isn’t a domineering lead and the movie isn’t about him. 12 Angry Men is about some boy that we only see for a split second and that is why all twelve jurors are bit players throughout. They aren’t the focal point, but it is their verdict on the life of a young man that is the nexus of the film. Ed Begley, E.W. Marshall, Lee J. Cobb, I could go on and on with the tremendous acting put on display in 12 Angry Men. Without their great performance as a whole group the movie would fall apart, but they are up to the task and the movie never loses a beat because of a missed cue or a weakly delivered line.

12 Angry Men doesn’t want you to view the boy as innocent or guilty, but it does want you to think about whether or not he is. Maybe the twelve men just let a murderer go free, or maybe they just saved an innocent boy from the electric chair. All it takes is reasonable doubt, and if ever there was a movie that created the case for reasonable doubt existing even when we don’t want to see it that would be 12 Angry Men. There’s one thing that there is no reasonable doubt about it, if you love movies you owe it to yourself to see this picture.



Bill Thompson

3 responses to “Review: 12 Angry Men (1957)

  1. mcarteratthemovies

    I remember watching this movie in ninth-grade English and loving it then. I’ve watched it numerous times since and it just gets more powerful every time. The 1997 TV remake is an abomination, I say — there’s no need to remake something like this. Unless Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ed Harris, Ryan Gosling, Ron Leibman and a few choice others are involved, I have no use for another “12 Angry Men.”

    M. Carter at the Movies

  2. well the remake actually brought me to watch 1957 masterpiece, so while there really was no need to remake it, let’s keep in mind that there’s a whole world out there that isn’t fortunate enough to watch american old school classics to remakes like this are actually instrumental in drawing larger audiences in to appreciating such art. Much like they’re doing with the Sherlock Holmes remakes which are likewise unnecessary but if you look at today’s generation, we see a lack of affinity for such great literature that a sense of stereotypical adventure and action scenes in the remakes are used to likewise draw the masses in. But i do agree with and understand your points though

  3. Interesting thoughts all around, but I sense a tinge of “remakes are at their heart unnecessary” in your comment and I can’t say I agree with that. Remakes can be great, they can be awful, and they can be somewhere in the middle, and their quality generally has little to do with them being remakes, despite the vocal majority crying out against them in recent years.

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