Wednesday, November 27, 2013

50. 12 Angry Men (1957)

Code-name: Jury Fury

Director: Sidney Lumet (RIP, 2011)
Type: Courtroom Drama

Juror 1, the foreman- Martin Balasm (RIP, 1996)
Juror 2, the soft-spoken bank teller- John Fielder- (RIP, 2005)
Juror 3, the stubborn owner of "Beck & Call Messenger Service"- Lee J. Cobb (RIP, 1976)
Juror 4, the stock broker- E.G. Marshall (RIP, 1988)
Juror 5, the former slumdog- Jack Klugman (RIP, 2012)
Juror 6, the painter- Edward Binns (RIP, 1990)
Juror 7, the sports fan- Jack Warden (RIP, 2006)
Juror 8, Mr. Davis, the architect who started it all- Peter Fonda (RIP, 1982)
Juror 9, Mr. McCardle, the old man- Joseph Sweeney (RIP, 1963)
Juror 10, the garage owner- Ed Begley (RIP, 1970)
Juror 11, the European-born watchmaker- George Voskovec (RIP, 1981)
Juror 12,  the ad executive- Robert Webber (RIP, 1989)

Notable Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Director- Sidney Lumet
OSCAR- Best Adapted Screenplay
OSCAR- Best Picture
Golden Globe- Best Picture- Drama
Golden Globe- Best Actor (Drama)- Henry Fonda
Golden Globe- Best Supporting Actor- Lee J. Cobb
Golden Globe- Best Director- Sidney Lumet


Thought I'd have a classic for the halfway point of my countdown.

How it would have fit into my 10th Grade English curriculum

For the record, we never covered this at my high school. "To Kill a Mockingbird," both the book (which I had trouble getting through) and the movie (which I enjoyed), and "Amistad" (also enjoyable and well-done) covered that topic rather well... about racial tensions, how they played out in legal cases and how people like Atticus Finch and Matthew McConaughey's character in "Amistad" stood up for colored folks because they were doing what they felt was right.
Sadly, "Amistad" was the only success story of the two, but Atticus Finch was all the more beloved, even in defeat.

HOW, WHEN and WHY this movie appeared on my radar [and on this list]
Mind the spoilers
 I believe one other movie on my countdown fits this scenario:
There was nothing on TV on a Monday night and someone pointed out this movie was on TCM and suggested it was a good one.

In this case, it was my dad and I was a teenager. Then when he started describing what it was about, bells were going off. I'd seen this story play out before.

This was one of the more memorable episodes from season 1 of "Hey Arnold!," my favorite show on Nickelodeon when I was a kid.
It was titled "False Alarm." The school klutz, Eugene, is being accused of pulling the fire alarm and whether or not he'll be expelled depends on a jury of his peers. This jury includes Arnold, Helga, Harold, Phoebe, Gerald and Curly. All the kids vote "guilty" except for Arnold, who has responsible doubt. They go over all the evidence, all of which points to Eugene except one: the Wankyland pencil. Supposedly, Eugene was recently banned from the amusement park because his infamous stumbling ruined their Thanksgiving Day parade so it's highly unlikely the pencil belongs to him.

Long story short, one of the jurors, Curly, confesses to framing Eugene. He had borrowed his "beloved" pencil and when he returned it, it was almost completely used up. Anyone familiar with the series would consider Curly as "the most likely to end up in a mental institution." I mean, there was an episode where he blockaded himself in the principal's office, hitting kids with kickballs because he was passed over for the role of Ball Monitor.

Good times...

In truth, a lot of the same elements played out in the movie. Helga was a combination of Jurors 3 and 6, being the biggest naysayer and the other wanting to get out in time for a sports event. Arnold was Juror #9. Phoebe fits the profile of Juror #2. The pencil was shoved into the desk the way the murder weapon (a switchblade).

However you look at it, in cartoon form, its original form (a play) or in film, "12 Angry Men" is well-played, relatable story that will carry some sort of relevance for the times we live in.


The movie takes place in New York City with roughly 97% of it taking place in the New York City Courthouse deliberation room (the remaining 3% was in the courtroom at the beginning and outside the courthouse at the end).

On trial is an 18-year old man of color (on screen he appears Hispanic, but it's never clarified), being charged with the 1st degree murder of his father. It is up to the jury to come to a unanimous decision, deeming him either "guilty" or "not guilty." If found guilty, the punishment is the electric chair.
Given the various testimonies and overwhelming amount of evidence, the jury believes it to be an open & shut case. But to their astonishment (a couple jurors more than most), Juror #9 (Peter Fonda) voted "not guilty"...

#3: Do you really think he's innocent?
#8: I don't know

...and that's the main gist of the story. One by one, the jurors change their votes from "guilty" to "not guilty." It's not so much that #8 believes the kid is innocent, but he wants to talk the case out before making the big decision about sending him to his death.

Considering how you're forced to endure 96 minutes with the same 12 characters being cooped in a single space (and yes, I realize that's how some plays... heck, even some other movies run), I marvel at the writing of this story.

In a nutshell, what stood out to me was how humor seeped its way into the plot in the most unexpected places. The 12 would go over different pieces of evidence or the defendant's defense and sometimes out of nowhere, someone will say something and #8 would call them on it... this usually follows with another change in vote.

At first, they go around the room, asking why people think the kid is guilty. This tells us a little about the people here based on what they call attention to. Sometimes, the case is that they'll say something and later on in the film, they return to it, only to have their mind changed.

#2 says guilty, but isn't sure why. He's very meek and unsure, but throughout the movie, he gains confidence in his convictions

You can tell right away that #3 will be the toughest one to convince because he obviously has prejudices steering his decision. As time goes on, you learn that he doesn't trust the kid's innocence because of experiences he went with his own son. There was an incident where his kid ran away from a fight and he beat him to make him a man. Then they fought when he was 16. He's 22 and he hasn't seen him in 2 years, spending most of that time thinking he wasted all the work he put into raising him.

#4 looks at the kid's alibi, thinking it doesn't hold because he couldn't remember what movies he saw or who starred in them

#6 looks at motive, believing the kid has it. His father was abusive and this was probably the breaking point

#7 looks at the kid's history and notes "he's real handy with a knife"

They get to #8, who sums up why he has responsible doubt. He thinks the kid's defense attorney did a terrible job defending him. And all the evidence placing him at the scene was circumstantial, with one eye-witness and a neighbor below who claims to have heard the ruckus take place above.

30 minutes into the movie, one of the votes change. #8 insists on a new vote where he'll abstain and if they all vote guilty, he won't object.
#3 picks a fight with #5, who confessed moments earlier that he also grew up in a slum and they can't judge the kid without judging him, but it was the old man, #9 who changed his vote because he wanted to discuss it more.

Given that he's a stockbroker, #4 is very succinct and orderly when he's speaking, so he goes over the night's events one time stamp at a time.

They look over the knife, citing that the kid showed it to his friends the night of the murder and they ID'd in court as the murder weapon. He claimed he lost the knife through his pocket on the way to the movies. Before they can rule it's a very distinct knife, the only of its kind, #8 pulls out one he bought in a pawn shop in the kid's neighborhood that looks very similar.
When #11 starts talking, he brings up a good question: why did the kid come back for the knife? Seeing as it could have been traced back to him. And why didn't he take it with him in the first place?

This is shortly after #10, the 2nd most cynical of the bunch impresses that the kid can't be trusted.
#10- He don't even speak good English
#11- he doesn't speak good English and #11 is of European descent, which makes that line even funnier when it comes

#2 brings up a good point about how the knife wound was made and wasn't sure if it was possible for the kid to have done it. #5 comes in while they demonstrate the use of the knife, saying that you stab upward after opening it and given the height difference between the kid and his father, he couldn't have made that particular wound.

Little by little, they debunk what the witnesses said. The old man claimed to have heard the kid say "I'm going to kill you" and ran to the stairs in time to see the kid flee the scene. But he had a limp and after demonstrating, they figure he couldn't have gotten there in time to see the kid flee.
Then with the woman across the street, it combined two things. There was the EL train that ran past and she claimed to see the murder happen in the last two cars... and later they realize she wore glasses and couldn't have seen the murder from her bed without putting them on, which she didn't have time to do.

Between the glasses and #8 debunking #4's teardown of the alibi (even without being under stress, he couldn't think of the movies he saw a couple days ago), all the jurors are convinced but one... but he does finally cave

Final Comments

Ultimately, this movie teaches how difficult a murder case can be to decide. If you're sending someone to death row, you want to be absolutely sure, just in case they might be innocent.
Even then, though, I still have a hard time with Casey Anthony being acquitted. Clearly, it was the threat of the death penalty that tipped off the jury to vote as they did. In my lifetime, I'd experienced her case, O.J.'s, the Zimmerman case, Dr. Conrad Murray and Dharun Ravi for Tyler Clemente's suicide. The only results I was pleased with were Dr. Murray and Ravi, but I'm still getting over the fact he only served 10 days in jail.

I didn't really know any of the actors going into the movie except John Fielder who sounded very familiar. He did the voice for Piglet in the "Winnie the Pooh" cartoons. Amazingly, he died around the same time as the guy who did Tigger's voice, Paul Winchell.
I've heard of the Fondas, but have little experience with their films. Peter's performance in this was definitely noteworthy because he played both sides of the issue really well. He's like the everyman who just wants to make sure their job is thorough and the aim is true.

Watching this again, I found it funny, almost scary, how much Juror #12 reminded me of Jon Hamm, like he came right out of "Mad Man." Robert Webber looked so much like him and he was in advertising, just like Don Draper is.
What's even funnier is that I saw maybe one episode of "Mad Men" ever and I really wasn't a fan. Maybe there'll come a point I'll give the series another shot.
Jack Klugman, who played Juror #4, also stood out to me this time because he died the most recently. But I think he always stood out to me a little because he grew up in a similar neighborhood to the kid on trial so he became increasingly sympathetic and changed his mind 15 minutes after #9 did.

As the years went by and yet another actor from this movie died, I always took note. Now all 12 of them have officially passed on... makes me wonder if they ever get together in Heaven and relive this experience. Peter Fonda is highly doubtful because being a producer in addition to acting in this movie was super stressful yet he believes its among his best pictures.

Next Week

Funny how Jon Hamm came into this discussion... because he's in the movie I'm discussing next week. Albeit, a small role he probably got because he was a big name at the time (still is, as far as TV goes). And I already mentioned in my "Catching Fire" review that Jena Malone was in it as well... put her on my star map, actually.

Alongside "Less than Zero," next week's movie stuck with me for a long time after viewing it in 2011. And its kick-ass soundtrack was just as much as a star as the actresses involved.

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