BOT: 12 Angry Men (1957)

BOT stands for Back on Track and this is this feature’s fifth post.

While I’m making my way through classics I’ve missed out over the years, I’m also in some ways ticking off movies from the IMDb Top 250 list and especially the top 10 which also includes 12 Angry Men. Movie which I have had on my list for a long time but I guess I needed BOT to finally put me at my place. Directed by Sidney Lumet and featuring twelve names with a focus on Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb, this might be the best BOT movie I’ve seen so far! I might even call it better than Godfather because I was clued to the screen from the first minutes till the final moments.

12 Angry Men was nominated for 3 Academy Awards, Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing and it holds the #6 in the IMDb’s Top 250 movies list. Best Writing was lost to George Wells for Designing Movies, which by the looks of it, seems like a bad win.

For those of you who don’t know yet, 12 Angry Men is about a jury that has to cast 12 votes either “guilty” or “not guilty” and all the votes have to be the same. So when one man out of 12 says “not guilty” the whole plot starts to unravel. We are not aware of the case before they start discussing it, nor are we certain which side we should be on but somehow after the first few explanations one cannot help to side with Fonda’s character. There are no names in this movie, they are simply faces of men and although we do get to know some of them through dialog, they still remain strangers to us. That, and the fact that an hour and half passes in a single room, with one bathroom scene, it feels like something out of this world.

The type of style used to make 12 Angry Men is something that is very rare and I assume we are seeing it less and less. First of all, one can’t make a movie without actually naming the people or giving them more emotional backgrounds because the writing isn’t on that level. I feel like 12 Angry Men is a play-movie when it comes to writing and as well as style that was used to film it. There is a lot of dialog and by not offending the actors, I do want to say that I think the writing carried the movie! Yes, the actors were brilliant in their elements, they held their own and delivered their lines, in addition to the interesting camera angles, movements and that very theatrical scene, but it would have meant nothing if the story wouldn’t been as amazing as it was. Reginald Rose who came up with the idea behind 12 Angry Men was actually inspired by his own jury experience and he wrote this as an hour long teleplay before it became a feature film then a play and finally a remake in 1997.

Out of 365 separate takes shot, 97% of the movie was filmed in a room that was sixteen by twenty-four feet. The actors rehearsed in the same conditions for two weeks in order to get the feeling of being in a room with same people for a long time and the shooting after that took 21 days.

Interesting and yet, totally understandable, that the play element became so evident to me while watching the movie. I liked that and I appreciate the fact that the integrity of the teleplay was somehow kept in the movie as well because it added something special. In plays the scene is set by characters and dialog, in movies a lot of the times elements of the nature or miscellaneous parts of the city or something, help to carry the visual side. Yet, 12 Angry Men visually is almost not a movie because if counting out the first and last scenes outside the room (which symbolized stage curtains to me), the only things that do give life to the story are situations and words. Which, like I said, were so well written that I can’t help to applaud Rose.

The movie tackled very many problems as well and most prominent for me was prejudice which dominated the story line. People assumed the worst because they didn’t pay enough attention to the details, except Fonda’s character. That makes the movie current as well because people act prejudice all the time and like 12 Angry Men thought us, things aren’t always as they seem. People lie and people hide the truth, sometimes the ones who are there to defend us won’t do that and it is quite frustrating to think like that. While this movie ended on a positive note, all twelve men finally agreed that the young man was not guilty, there are far more worse scenarios we are seeing nowadays. But that won’t be something I want to discuss under this post anymore, but I do want to remind you the lesson 12 Angry Men shows us: which is to know how important one man’s opinion, that differs from the popular one, actually could be.

Also, as a final comment which was something I actually noticed in the very end, was the clever use of clothing. Though the movie was black and white, I could have sworn that Fonda’s character, the one who believed the boy was innocent from the start, was the only one wearing a white suit (which was proven by IMDb after I finished writing this post – so I do know what I’m talking about). Kind of symbolic I would think and impressive how even a black and white film can deliver color-symbolism. Well, all I can say is that my hat is off and I’m thrilled that 12 Angry Men became the metaphorical leader among my unrated BOT list movies – it was just brilliant!

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9 thoughts on “BOT: 12 Angry Men (1957)”

  1. Love this movie to death. Henry Fonda producing that knife is one of my favorite cinematic moments.

    I agree with Waffler about Lumet being under-rated too. I consider him as one of my two favorite directors. I would love to see how you feel about some of his other movies. Great Job !

    1. I really enjoyed the whole idea of the movie a lot! I miss those moments in movies nowadays.
      And I will try to watch more Lumet in the upcoming weeks.

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