This was live television-trained director Sidney Lumets first feature film - a low-budget ($350,000) film shot in only 19 days from a screenplay by Reginald Rose, who based his script on his own teleplay of the same name. After the initial airing of the TV play in early 1954 on Studio One CBS-TV, co-producer/star Henry Fonda asked Rose in 1956 if the teleplay could be expanded to feature-film length (similar to what occurred to Paddy Chayefskys TV play Marty (1955)), and they became co-producers for the project (Fondas sole instance of film production).
The jury of twelve angry men, entrusted with the power to send an uneducated, teenaged Puerto Rican, tenement-dwelling boy to the electric chair for killing his father with a switchblade knife, are literally locked into a small, claustrophobic rectangular jury room on a stifling hot summer day until they come up with a unanimous decision - either guilty or not guilty. The compelling, provocative film examines the twelve mens deep-seated personal prejudices, perceptual biases and weaknesses, indifference, anger, personalities, unreliable judgments, cultural differences, ignorance and fears, that threaten to taint their decision-making abilities, cause them to ignore the real issues in the case, and potentially lead them to a miscarriage of justice.
[A few of the films idiosyncracies: Even in the 50s, it would have been unlikely to have an all-male, all-white jury. However, its slightly forgivable since the play made the jury and trial largely symbolic and metaphoric (the jurors were made to represent a cross-section of American attitudes towards race, justice, and ideology, and were not entirely realistic.) The introduction of information about the defendants past juvenile crimes wouldnt have been allowed. Jurors # 3 and # 10 were so prejudiced that their attitudes would have quickly eliminated them from being selected during jury review. And it was improper for Juror # 8 to act as a defense attorney - to re-enact the old mans walk to the front door or to investigate on his own by purchasing a similar knife. The angry interactions between some of the jurors seem overly personal and exaggerated.]
This classic, black and white film has been accused of being stagey, static and dialogue-laden. It has no flashbacks, narration, or subtitles. The camera is essentially locked in the enclosed room with the deliberating jurors for 90 of the films 95 minutes, and the film is basically shot in real-time in an actual jury room. Cinematographer Boris Kaufman, who had already demonstrated his on-location film-making skill in Elia Kazans On the Waterfront (1954) in Hoboken, and Baby Doll (1956) in Mississippi, uses diverse camera angles (a few dramatic, grotesque closeups and mostly well-composed medium-shots) to illuminate and energize the films cramped proceedings. Except for Henry Fonda, the ensemble character actors were chosen for their experience in the burgeoning art of television.
The film was a financial disaster when it first opened (during a time of colorful widescreen film offerings), but it did receive three Academy Award nominations (with no wins): Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. All three categories lost to David Leans Oscar-sweeping, extravagant epic film The Bridge on the River Kwai. Henry Fondas central role as a juror with resolute caution was un-nominated as Best Actor.
None of the jurors are named, and they dont formally introduce themselves to each other (except for two of them in the final brief ending). Jurors are labeled with numbers based on their jury numbers and seats at a conference table in the jury room (in clock-wise order).
If theres a reasonable doubt in your minds as to the guilt of the accused, a reasonable doubt, then you must bring me a verdict of not guilty. If however, there is no reasonable doubt, then you must in good conscience find the accused guilty. However you decide, your verdict must be unanimous. In the event that you find the accused guilty, the bench will not entertain a recommendation for mercy. The death sentence is mandatory in this case. You are faced with a grave responsibility. Thank you, gentlemen.
As the jury leaves the box and retires to the jury room to deliberate, the camera presents a side-view and then a lingering, silent closeup of the innocent-faced, frightened, despondent slum boy defendant with round, sad brown eyes. [His ethnicity, whether hes Puerto Rican or Hispanic, is unspecified.
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