12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men (a look back at film)

1957 ‧ Drama ‧ 1h 36m ‧ dir. Sidney Lumet

This essay is directly talking about a scene in the movie '12 Angry Men' (clip above)

A Look Back At Film - 'Juror 10' - Charlotte Haley (FR)

The 1957 film, 12 Angry Men, directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet, is a giant of the courtroom drama genre, though it does not exert itself extraneously. With grace, elegance and a magnificent script, 12 Angry Men sits comfortably on the silver screen, using one setting for the majority of the film. Though it lost to The Bridge Over the River Kwai at the Academy Awards in three categories, the film, originally written for a television audience and now enjoyed by theatregoers across the world, was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress. Lumet’s 12 Angry Men is an example of what cinema can do with the bare essentials: cast, setting and camera.

The jurors in a trial of murder, twelve men begin a discussion of how simple the case looks: the young man accused, from the slums of New York, has clearly murdered his father in a fit of rage. Yet, Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) disputes the irrefutability of the decision, raising the issue of ‘reasonable doubt’. In his attempt to convince the other jurors that the young man should not be convicted, as the evidence is not so damning as first thought, the other characters’ prejudices and weaknesses begin to shine through.

  12 Angry Men (1957)  -  Orion-Nova Productions, United Artists

12 Angry Men (1957)Orion-Nova Productions, United Artists

This scene of the film (available in the link above) is an example of Lumet’s incredible directing, demonstrating the isolation of one character in a room full of men. The main speaker, Juror 10 (Ed Begley), takes it upon himself to point out to the other characters how foolish their deliberations are. To Juror 10, because the accused was raised in a slum and is not white (his race is never specified, though he is often presented as Hispanic), he is guilty beyond all logical consideration. 10 presents the accused as unworthy of the jurors’ time and interrogative instinct, the man’s life not only below their own, but below the time it would take to examine the evidence in full. This is where 10’s diatribe is given its first moral function in the film: his assumption that the other men have forgotten what is, to him, crucial factor - the young man’s background and race - illustrates to the audience how people will project their own prejudices onto others, attempting to override reason and rationale. Throughout the scene, 10 is shown to be increasingly alone; his fearful state is painfully emphasised by the increasingly erratic, specious nature of his arguments. He is left shouting into the void, universally condemned for his economic and racial profiling of the accused. Moreover, his speech raises the very grave question of how many young people have fallen victim to such prejudices - the scene ends with a rain-filled emptiness, to allow us to wonder at this.

  12 Angry Men (1957)  -  Orion-Nova Productions, United Artists

12 Angry Men (1957) - Orion-Nova Productions, United Artists

The film proposes that views founded on inequality and privilege are often shouted louder than logical arguments, yet never hold as much credibility. It is Ed Begley’s vehemence and volume, contrasted with Henry Fonda’s dulcet tones, that appear to show him up the most: the jurors begin to turn away, one by one. This idea, so blatantly theatrical that only Lumet’s skill as a director could deploy it tastefully, links to the central importance of the face in the film. From the outset, the terrified face of the accused young man is all the audience see of him, if only for a minute or so. In the jurors’ room, the table around with the twelve men sit forces them to face each other, making for several uncomfortable episodes when the men disagree. As for this scene, Juror 10’s decision to stand up to unleash his rant changes the face-to-face dynamic; Begley’s character holds more power on the screen now he is standing. He appears as a preacher, the indoctrinated relating to those he wishes to indoctrinate. Nevertheless, Juror 5 (Jack Klugman) decides he will not be party to 10’s sermon, perhaps because, as he revealed earlier, he grew up in a slum. What the audience at first assumes to be a man, personally insulted, choosing to walk away, becomes a type of mass walkout, in which the men cannot leave the room. Instead, they choose to turn their faces away from Juror 10, denying him their attention. 10’s ‘us and them’ spiel becomes more companionless as the scene goes on; the audience, presumably still watching, are among the only ones with their eyes turned to Juror 10. More importantly, we see a contrast between Begley’s character and that of Henry Fonda: where Fonda held his audience - both in the room, and in the cinema - enraptured with his compelling narrative, Begley is repelling the other jurors. His arguments falling on deaf ears, he is told to sit down, and he complies.

  12 Angry Men (1957)  -  Orion-Nova Productions, United Artists

12 Angry Men (1957) Orion-Nova Productions, United Artists

Whether this scene is condemning prejudices held against the inhabitants of slums, or highlighting the impact one’s poorly-formed opinions can have on others’ lives, or both, it grants the film one of the moments of silence and immobility that punctuate its most dramatic moments. Though it may be critiqued for its moralistic undertones, this scene declares most notably that the only pre-conceived notions appropriate for jurors to hold are those of logic, impersonal and carefully-considered.

 

Charlotte Haley - 2016 Film Representative @ FAFF