Friday, July 10, 2015
12 Angry Men (1957)
Criterion releases films not just from the United States, but from all over the world, making sure each part of the world is well represented with the very best they have to offer as you can tell from their extensive catalog listing here. A lot of their releases usually go for a bit more than your standard DVD/BluRay release, but a couple times a year they run half off sales on their website to get them down to more reasonable rates, which I took advantage of last year to get a few releases, one of which is the topic of today’s blog with 1957’s 12 Angry Men (trailer).
If you are unfamiliar with 12 Angry Men, the title itself is a big hint at what to expect as the film opens with a murder trial just wrapping up and a judge sending the jurors off to deliberations to determine if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The judge proclaims if the defendant is found guilty he will get the electric chair death penalty. Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) is the only holdout with a not guilty vote of the 12, and the next hour and a half is an intense round of deliberations as these 12 jurors weigh all the evidence and have the fate of one man’s life in the palm of their hands.
Director Sidney Lumet made great use of constant up close, wide shots of all the jurors’ faces so you can see how exacerbated some of them get towards the end of the film when they have beads of perspiration dripping from their foreheads. I will give props again to Criterion for committing who knows how many hours remastering this film, and considering its age, it looks fantastic! In the booklet included with the film they list all the equipment they used to restore and remove as many faults like screen grain and tearing as they could so there could be as pristine a picture and sound as possible. It is from their hard work that make moments like the up close, in your face shots of the jurors really pop off the screen. All the jurors are not named throughout the film (minus two in the closing moment), and while Fonda is obviously the star of the film, the rest of the jurors each get their individual moments and time to shine in the film. In a weird way it is kind of like trying to split up the screen time for all the heroes in The Avengers, and like that film, 12 Angry Men somehow manages to make each juror a pivotal character by the end of the film.
Phone Booth and Buried. I cannot believe I have neglected 12 Angry Men from this list as one of the pioneers of films like this as 95% of the film takes place in the jurors’ deliberation room. Even though it is just one location, there are so many special breakthrough moments that transpire in there. In one memorable moment, a juror goes on a monologue talking about his son and making a man out of him that really struck a chord with me through its delivery. As each juror starts to change sides, the last few holdouts get desperate, and in another striking moment, one juror goes on a prejudice tirade, and the rest of the jurors shun him with the silent treatment in what I feel is the most powerful scene of the film.
A lot of how these scenes were shot, and the reasoning on how 12 Angry Men came to be is explained in the extra features. The original TV movie of 12 Angry Men from 1954, or teleplays as they were called back then, is included in its 50 minute entirety, along with a 15 minute intro talking about how exclusive made-for-TV dramas at the time like this were the reason why TV sets in households got a rapid boom in the 50s. Unlike the feature film, the teleplay is not remastered and presented in its original standard definition. A bonus second teleplay is included with 1956’s Tragedy in Temporary Town. It is 55 minutes and also directed by Sidney Lumet, and like 12 Angry Men, this deals with standing up against prejudice and bullying. I hate to admit it, but I did not watch either teleplay as both of them have several clips spliced into the other extra features that after viewing gave me a good idea of what the teleplays were all about.
Nearly 60 years after its release, and 12 Angry Men is still a gem. I wholeheartedly applaud the message behind this film about standing your ground and rising up against the odds. Criterion made sure to give this classic the five star home video treatment and pack it with not a dull extra, with every extra feature worth going out of your way to watch to get the full story behind the film. If you love dramas, filled with intense, powerful moments, then do not let this 1957 release date intimidate you as 12 Angry Men is still a must see film now as it was nearly 60 years ago.
Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs
12 Angry Men (1957)
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
Field of Dreams
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
The Wrestler (2008)