Twelve Angry Men (1957)


12 Angry Men is a 1957 American drama film adapted from a teleplay of the same name by Reginald Rose. Directed by Sidney Lumet, the film tells the story of a jury made up of 12 men as they deliberate the guilt or acquittal of a defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt. In the United States (both then and now), the verdict in most criminal trials by jury must be unanimous one way or the other. The film is notable for its almost exclusive use of one set: with the exception of the film's opening, which begins outside on the steps of the courthouse and ends with the jury's final instructions before retiring, a brief final scene on the courthouse steps and two short scenes in an adjoining washroom, the entire movie takes place in the jury room. The total time spent outside of the jury room is three minutes out of the full 96 minutes of the movie. 12 Angry Men explores many techniques of consensus-building, and the difficulties encountered in the process, among a group of men whose range of personalities adds intensity and conflict. Apart from two of the jurors swapping names while leaving the courthouse, no names are used in the film: the defendant is referred to as "the boy" and the witnesses as the "old man" and "the lady across the street". In 2007, 12 Angry Men was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


After the final closing arguments are presented, the judge gives his instructions to the jury: The question they are deciding is whether the defendant—a teenage boy from a city slum—stabbed and killed his father. The jury is further instructed that a guilty verdict will be accompanied by a mandatory death sentence. The jury of 12 retires to the jury room, where they spend a short while getting acquainted before they are called to order. It is immediately apparent that they have already found the defendant guilty and intend to return their verdict to the court without taking time for discussion--with the sole exception of Juror number 8 (Henry Fonda). His is the only "not guilty" in a preliminary vote. His stated reason is that there is too much at stake for him to go along with the verdict without at least talking about it first. His vote annoys several of the others, the most vociferous of whom is Juror number 7 (Jack Warden) who has tickets for the evening's baseball game. The film then revolves around the jury's difficulty in reaching a unanimous verdict, mainly due to several of the jurors' personal prejudices. Juror number 8 says that the evidence presented is circumstantial, and the boy deserves a fair deliberation—whereupon he questions the accuracy and reliability of the only two witnesses to the murder, the fact that the knife used in the murder is not as unusual as testimony promotes (to prove his point, he produces an identical one from his pocket), and the overall questionable circumstances (the fact that an elevated train was passing by at the time of the crime calls the two witnesses' testimonies into doubt). Having argued several points and gotten no favorable response from other jurors, he reluctantly agrees that all he seems to be accomplishing is hanging the jury. He takes a bold gamble: he requests another vote, this time by secret ballot. He proposes that he will abstain from voting, and if the other 11 jurors vote guilty unanimously, then he will acquiesce to their decision. However, they will continue deliberating if at least one juror votes "not guilty." In a secret ballot, Juror 9 (Joseph Sweeney) is the first to support Juror 8, not necessarily believing the accused is not guilty, but feeling that Juror 8's points deserve further discussion. After Juror 8 presents a convincing argument that a witness who claimed to have heard the murder taking place could not have heard the voices as clearly as he had testified, Juror 5 (Jack Klugman)—who grew up in a slum—changes his vote to "not guilty." This earns intense criticism from Juror 3 (Lee J. Cobb), who accuses him of switching only because he has sympathy for slum children. Soon afterward, Juror 11 (George Voskovec), questioning whether the defendant would have reasonably fled the scene and come back three hours later to retrieve his knife, also changes his vote. Juror 8 then conducts an experiment that casts serious doubt upon the witness' other claim: that upon hearing the murder, he had gone to the door of his apartment and seen the defendant running out of the building. At this Juror 3, who has been growing increasingly emotional and irrational as deliberations progressed, explodes in a rant: "He's got to burn! He's slipping through our fingers!" Juror 8 takes him to task, calling him a "self-appointed public avenger" and a sadist. At that, Juror 3 attempts to physically assault Juror 8, shouting "I'll kill him!" and is restrained by two others. Juror 8 quietly points to his outburst as a demonstration of the kind of hyperbole that could well apply to the threats the witness claimed to have heard shouted by the defendant at the time of the murder. After Jurors 2 (John Fiedler) and 6 (Edward Binns) also decide to vote "not guilty" to tie the vote at 6–6, increasingly impatient Juror 7 becomes tired and also changes his vote just so that the deliberation may end, which earns him nothing but shame. When scathingly pressed by Juror 11, however, Juror 7 insists that he truly believes the defendant is not guilty because he has come to have a reasonable doubt as the other jurors pore over the facts; in addition, it starts to rain during deliberation which means the game he is looking forward to will be postponed making his selfish reasons now moot. Juror 2 calls into question the prosecution's claim that the accused, who was nearly a half a foot shorter than the victim, was able to stab him in such a way as to inflict the downward stab wound found on the body; Juror 5 then explains that he had grown up amidst knife fights in his neighborhood, and no one so much shorter than his opponent would have held a switchblade in such a way as to stab downward, as it would have been too awkward. This revelation augments the certainty of several of the jurors in their belief that the defendant is not guilty. The next jurors to change their votes are Jurors 12 (Robert Webber) and 1 (Martin Balsam), making the vote 9–3. The only dissenters left are Jurors 3, 4 (E.G. Marshall), and 10 (Ed Begley). Outraged at how the proceedings have gone, Juror 10 proceeds to go into a bigoted and narrow-minded rage on why people from the slums cannot be trusted, of how they are little better than animals who gleefully kill each other off for fun—and as he speaks, one by one the other jurors turn their backs to him until only Juror 4 remains. Confused and disturbed by this reaction to his diatribe, Juror 10 continues in a steadily fading voice and manner, concluding with the entreaty, "Listen to me! Listen...!" Juror 4, the only juror still facing him, tersely responds, "I have. Now sit down and don't open your mouth again." When Juror 4 is pressed as to why he still maintains his vote, he states his belief that despite all the other evidence that has been called into question, the fact remains that the woman who saw the murder from her bedroom window across the street (through a passing train) still stands as solid evidence. After he points this out, Juror 12 changes his vote back to "guilty" to make the vote 8–4 again. Then Juror 9, after seeing Juror 4 rub his nose (which is being irritated by his glasses), realizes that, like Juror 4, the witness who allegedly saw the murder had impressions in the sides of her nose, indicating that she wore glasses, but out of vanity did not wear them in court; he cannily asks Juror 4 if he wears his eyeglasses to sleep, and Juror 4 admits he doesn't—no one does. Juror 8 explains that there was thus no reason to expect that the witness happened to be wearing her glasses while trying to sleep, and he points out that the attack happened so swiftly that she would not have had time to put them on. After he points this out, Jurors 12, 10, and 4 all change their vote to "not guilty." Last of all to agree is the rigid Juror 3 who, after a long confrontation with Juror 8, breaks down after glancing at and furiously tearing up a picture of himself and his son. It is established earlier in the film that Juror 3 had a bad relationship with the boy and it is exposed as the real reason why he so badly wanted the accused boy to be guilty. It was then after tearing up the picture, Juror 3 sobs over the loss of his love for his son and finally changes his vote to "not guilty," leaving the final vote to be unanimous for acquittal. All jurors leave and the defendant is found not guilty off-screen, while Juror 8 helps the distraught Juror 3 with his coat in a show of compassion between the only two jurors to stand alone at any point during the deliberations. In an epilogue, the friendly Jurors 8 (Davis) and 9 (McCardle) exchange names (all jurors having remained nameless throughout the movie) and the movie ends with a panning shot of all jurors descending the courthouse steps to return to their individual lives. The plot depicts the various personalities of people likely to be called to jury duty; however, two general personality types emerge: those who take the job seriously enough to weigh the evidence and deliberate as duty calls, and those who fail in that duty for whatever reason. The theme stresses the importance of the jury system and pitfalls of rushing to judgment.