DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
12 ANGRY MEN (director: Sidney Lumet; screenwriter: Reginald Rose/from teleplay by Reginald Rose; cinematographer: Boris Kaufman; editor: Carl Lerner; music: Kenyon Hopkins; cast: Henry Fonda (Juror #8), Lee J. Cobb (Juror #3), Ed Begley, Sr. (Juror No. 10), E.G. Marshall (Juror #4), Jack Klugman (Juror #5), Jack Warden (Juror #7), Martin Balsam (Juror #1), Joseph Sweeney (Juror #9), John Fiedler (Juror #2), Ed Binns (Juror #6), George Voskovec (Juror #11), Robert Webber (Juror #12); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Reginald Rose/Henry Fonda; MGM Home Entertainment; 1957)

 
"Lumet keeps things tense, sweaty, suspenseful and entertaining despite the contrived story line."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

The 32-year-old TV director Sidney Lumet's ("The Group"/"Serpico"/"Prince of the City") impressive debut film adapts a Reginald Rose teleplay, written by Rose, and manages to overcome its claustrophobic sweltering summertime NYC setting in the one jury deliberation room through the innovative visuals of cinematographer Boris Kaufman. It's about a sober-minded liberal architect, Juror #8 (Henry Fonda), who spends the entire film to convince his 11 colleagues to reconsider the guilt of a troubled JD slum-dwelling Puerto Rican 18-year-old on trial for fatally sticking a switch-blade knife in his abusive ex-con father's chest. The seemingly open-and-shut first-degree murder trial, lasting six days, is one that requires a unanimous verdict for the accused to get sentenced to the electric chair. It turns out to be not that simple, as the kid's shoddy defense from his court-appointed attorney gets retried in the jury room by the lone hold-out, Juror #8, who pokes holes in the circumstantial evidence and the statements from the eyewitnesses.

Lumet keeps things tense, sweaty, suspenseful and entertaining despite the contrived story line, that's rigged in promoting its agenda: that you can't convict if there's a reasonable doubt, that one's personal prejudices have no place on the jury and that evidence and eyewitness claims must be looked at carefully if this democratic process is to work as it was designed.

The excellent performances by the entire talented cast make this one a solid and impactful drama. Fonda, in a subdued performance, is convincing as the sincere do-gooder; Martin Balsam is fine as the fair-minded likable jury foreman; E.G. Marshall, Ed Begley, Sr., Jack Warden, and Lee J. Cobb give superb performances as those promoting a guilty verdict, for various reasons; while Jack Klugman, Joseph Sweeney, John Fiedler, Ed Binns, George Voskovec, and Robert Webber are believable characters, as those who in the course of re-examing the evidence show a willingness to keep an open mind.

Things conclude a bit too pat for me to say that it's a brilliant pic, but it was nevertheless surprisingly realistic (even if it was unconvincing in detail, as the case for the prosecutor so conveniently and easily comes apart) and entertaining. Lumet's capable tight direction is welcomed here, and is without some of his mishaps he showed in many of his later long list of films that missed the mark because of his slackness.

REVIEWED ON 5/12/2011       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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