MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: Classic. 12 Angry Men (Lumet); Twelve Angry Men (Schaffner)


DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: CLASSIC 12 Angry Men (Two Discs) (Four Stars)

U.S.; Sidney Lumet, 1957 (Criterion)

The court will rise…



Twelve men, jurors in a ’50s murder trial, gather together in the sweltering heat of a New York City afternoon, in a box-like jury room where the fans give little relief, to decide the fate of a Puerto Rican boy, accused of murdering his father. All of them seem convinced of the defendant’s guilt, except Juror No. 8 (Henry Fonda), who casts the sole “Not Guilty” vote, and then asks that they give the accused a last chance, examine the evidence one more time. The others agree, and then, one by one, Juror No. 8 — a calm, reasonable, seemingly unflappable man seemingly devoted to justice — begins to talk them around , even as tempers flare, even as heat punishes them, even as the walls seem to constantly close in on them, and even as a final collision looms between Juror No. 8 and the most recalcitrant of the “Guilty” jurors (Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley), stubborn men who refuse to legally or morally budge, no matter what he says.


12 Angry Men — director Sidney Lumet and writer Reginald Rose’s great courtroom film drama (or maybe we should call it an off-courtroom drama), the most influential and memorable of its kind ever made — first appeared on TV in 1954 (the same year that On the Waterfront was in movie theatres), directed by Franklin Schaffner, with a cast led by Robert Cummings as Juror No. 8. (That version, a masterpiece of live TV drama, can be seen on Koch Vision’s “Studio One Anthology,” along with 16 other vintage ‘TV shows. It’s described below.)


When Lumet, who was, like Schaffner, a prime ’60s “Golden Age” TV director, brought 12 Angry Men to the screen, he filled the space between his two equally determined, seemingly immovable antagonists, stalwart Fonda and furious Cobb, with some of the best TV and stage character actors of the day: Jack Warden as Juror No. 7 (the cynical guy who just wants to get it all over with, and catch the big Yankees game), Begley as Juror No. 10 (the bigot, who learns the hardest lesson), E. G. Marshall as cool, punctilious, ultra-organized Juror No. 4, Jack Klugman as big-hearted Juror No. 5, George Voskovec as Juror No. 11 (a Holocaust survivor), Robert Webber as Juror No. 12 (a slick Madison Ave. adman full of clichés), John Fiedler as the seemingly mousey Juror No. 2, Joe Sweeney as careful Juror No. 9, Edward Binns as “average joe” Juror No. 6, Cobb as Juror No. 3, the angriest of them all, and Martin Balsam as the urbane foreman, Juror No. 1.


Take a look at those names again. You have just read the roll call of one of the greatest ensembles and best  movie casts in the history of the American cinema.


Fonda brought them together. The film’s producer (together with Rose), as well as its star, Fonda obviously treasured Rose’s script and the chance to make it. This very handsome and idealistic Hollywood star had spent much of the previous last decade working on stage more than in the movies (in “Mr. Roberts” and other hit Broadway plays) and he knew the power and beauty of an ensemble, all working in tune together (even as their characters seemed to be arguing at cross-purposes). So, in his movie of 12 Angry Men, Fonda surrounded himself with expert actors who knew when to seize a scene and when to move to the background, and who were all perfectly cast in their roles. He also hired his writer, Rose, as his co-producer, and they hired a director, Lumet, who would become legendary for his ability with actors, and a cinematographer (Boris Kaufman) who was an acknowledged genius of photography, both naturalistic (On the Waterfront) and stylized (Zero de Conduite).

Then, while playing the man who brings the jurors all together, arguing calmly but forcefully in the cauldron of anger and sweat and fear and rage, and somehow justice, that the jury room becomes, Fonda probably became the guiding force onstage and off. His Juror No. 8 keeps going, keeps talking, outmanned at first, determined, lucid and always strongly focused, to try to make sure that justice is served.


It’s a hot, hot day. We’re only out of the jury room for a few minutes at the beginning (the trial summation) and the end (the jury leaving), and director Lumet, in his Oscar-nominated feature debut, actually (by changing the focal length of his camera lenses) makes the walls of the jury room-set slowly close in on the angry twelve, as they argue, vivisect the facts, expose their own prejudices and struggle to find the truth. One by one, calm, liberal, idealistic Juror No. 8 turns them around. And though Reginald Rose’s famous script is certainly dominated by a schematic concept and an agenda, making 12 Angry Men the kind of likeably old-fashioned message drama that usually doesn’t age well, you’d have to be tone-deaf cinematically to argue that this move isn’t a terrific job and that it doesn’t punch across its themes and characters and ideas and emotions with formidable skill. It’s Lumet at his peak, and a tremendous actors’ showcase. And it’s actually gotten stronger over the years.


Lumet was a great director of actors. But he was also famous as one of the fastest of all ‘50’s TV drama directors, and he would become equally famous for his moviemaking speed. Lumet liked to rehearse and (as opposed to many of his colleagues, who never rehearsed) he usually demanded a week or two with his actors beforehand. Fonda and this cast were probably happy to give it to him. And Lumet probably wanted that much rehearsal time so the actors could be perfect with their material and ready to improvise over it, find those “happy accidents” that Lumet says are the jewels of the actor’s art.

We have a sense, watching the twelve, that every member of this team knows his job, and hits his marks and says his lines perfectly — and that attitude meshes just as perfectly not only with the script‘s contention that democracy and a fair trial are cornerstones of the American ideal, but with its presentation of Juror No. 8 as the courageous individual who is willing to stand up against the majority and espouse an unpopular viewpoint, and finally win them over. Like Lumet…sometimes. A few years later, Lumet would direct a teleplay about a trial with even more unpopular defendants: the doomed radicals Sacco and Vanzetti. (I saw it, in a small, very conservative Wisconsin village, in the same years that Otto Preminger, Kirk Douglas and Dalton Trumbo, in Exodus and Spartacus, finally broke the black list). Lumet would direct a teleplay, from Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh,” that would prove one of the great ensemble pieces in all of American televised drama — and would contain one of the most brilliant of all TV dramatic performances: Jason Robards as salesman Hickey. Five years later, Lumet would direct another of the most stunning ensembles of any American movie: his adaptation (with Kaufman again photographing in black and white) of O’Neill’s unsparing masterpiece on his sad family, Long Day’s Journey Into Night; with Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Robards and Dean Stockwell as the haunted O‘Neills/Tyrones.

Then, in 1982, he would make another great trial drama, this time, completely outside the jury room (but seemingly everywhere else): The Verdict, written by David Mamet, with Paul Newman and James Mason, both wonderful  as the opposing lawyers, Milo O’Shea as the judge, Charlotte Rampling as a spy, and, from the cast of 12 Angry Men, Juror No. 7 (Jack Warden) and Juror No. 6 (Edward Binns). Warden played another lawyer, Binns played a bishop whose Boston church‘s hospital was being sued for a death. But 12 Angry Men remains his signature film. You can see bits of it in almost everything else he made in his long, prolific and highly honorable career.


Lumet had a strong social conscience, a trait as crucial to his artistic makeup as his brilliance with actors — and one never doubts that he and Rose intended 12 Angry Men to be the strongest statement possible statement for a fair and just (and compassionate) judicial and legal system. Rose, in fact, wrote the original teleplay of Twelve Angry Men after serving on a jury himself, probably an all-male one; he obviously took good notes or remembered it very well. The atmosphere, in this film, of heat and investigation and turmoil, with the circumstances of the violent crime examined repeatedly and even almost recreated, is overpowering. The cast, and that sense of spontaneity and human rhythm and pace that Lumet gets at his best, mixed with the screenplay’s canny mix of realism and near-melodrama burns into your memory. It’s a quintessential liberal social/moral drama. See it once, and you never forget it. You know that’s true: 12 Angry Men is one of the films you haven’t forgotten.


Why? Because you really feel, as you watch 12 Angry Men, that you are in a jury room with those contentious, sometimes vicious,  yet mostly fair-minded jurors, and at the same time that you are taking part in one of those heightened and transporting theatrical experiences that can be molded on stage, in its higher forms, from the plays of Shakespeare, Chekhov, Euripides, Tennessee Williams, and from “Long Day’s Journey into Night” — but that we can also find in 12 Angry Men, and the best of Lumet’s other work and especially in those later Lumet movie classics about crime (and police work) like his ’70s Al Pacino movies Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico. (Will the jury for Pacino’s hapless bank robber Sonny be as painstaking, we wonder, as the one that Reginald Rose remembered or imagined for his 1954 courtroom drama?)

You feel that a war of ideas is taking place in 12 Angry Men, and that it has consequence and importance. But you also feel that all these jurors are not just mouthpieces or puppets, but individuals, colorful, with strong personalities, and that, in some way, all of them will come to value the truth and justice they are charged with delivering. Or will they?


Lee J. Cobb plays Juror No. 3. He is a dour, often sneering man with a deep, deep voice, and cruel, slightly sleepy-looking eyes. powerfully built, a man who sometimes growls his sentences, who lifts things (or once did), who fights (or once did), full of a rage that simmers with needles of contempt as he speaks, or explodes when argument fails him and he screams. (My favorite Cobb screaming movie line: “Quit breathin‘ that clam sauce on me!” as Johnny Friendly in On the Waterfront.)

His real name was Leo Jacob, and he was an New York City East Side Jew whose father worked for the Jewish Daily Forward. Lee wanted to be a violinist, but he broke his wrist and so he ran away in his teens to become an actor, and eventually he got into the Group Theatre, with their repertoire of left-wing social dramas, and, when he was in his 20s, he played an old man in Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, a disappointed father just as he is in 12 Angry Men. On stage, he was often disappointed, often a father. He was also known as a scene-stealing ham and all-purpose accent man (like J. Carroll Naish) in his early movies. Then in 1949, playwright Arthur Miller and director Elia Kazan elevated Cobb to the ranks of the all-time American stage greats when they gave him the part of Willy Loman, a man who is wrecked by life but who has to dream (because it goes with the territory), in Miller’s great play “Death of a Salesman.”

In the ‘50s, after the triumph of Salesman, he was at his very best in the movies, where he played the crooked dock union boss Friendly in Kazan and Budd Schulberg’s On the Waterfront (the role for which Cobb should have won the Oscar), and Dostoyevskian Old Man Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov, and the King Learish outlaw chief facing Gary Cooper in Man of the West, and the mob boss who carries acid for Cyd Charisse in Party Girl. Of the hard nuts to crack in the jury room, Cobb is the hardest. E. G. Marshall’s Juror No. 4 is tough because he believes in reason and order and the class system (or seems to). He believes in logic, and logic tell him the defendant is the likeliest suspect and the case against him a strong one. (Logic sometimes tells us that too. 12 Angry Men is a movie about reasonable doubt.)

Ed Begley’s Juror No. 8 is a bigot whose arguments crumble when his prejudice comes fully out. But Cobb as Juror No. 3 is the toughest of all because he is at poles with some human kindness and mercy, and that makes him one of the key votes in the slowly contracting jury room, along with Juror No. 8. Cobb’s No. 3 is the man who will not give up his fight and his revenge because he hates life because life has scarred and battered him, and he knows how it must feel to be a father facing a son who has murder in his eyes and a knife in his hand. He is the last man to change his mind, the last tree to fall. And when he falls, the earth shakes.


Cobb, Begley, Marshall, Warden, Klugman, Balsam, Voskovec, Webber, Fiedler, Binns, Sweeney…Eleven Angry Men. And the performance that makes it all work, that gives the movie grace and dignity, that everything and everyone in 12 Angry Men pivots around, is by Henry Fonda, who hailed from the American heartland, Omaha, Nebraska and who was Jimmy Stewart‘s best friend all their lives — Fonda, so quiet, so subtle, so filled with that natural dignity that this shy-seeming actor gave to John Ford and us in The Grapes of Wrath and Young Mr. Lincoln and (despite their feuding and breakup) in the exterior scenes of Ford and Mervyn LeRoy’s movie of Mister Roberts. Fonda, who can be a great villain (as he was in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West), but who can also be the American heroic common man, as he was playing Tom in “The Grapes of Wrath,” where he killed a man (in self-defense) and fled in the darkness to fight for the justice a Depression courtroom probably couldn‘t know, or give to an Okie on the run. And as he also was when he played the uncommon but heroic Juror No. 8, who wants to avoid killing a possibly innocent man, and who believes that is the American way, that must be the American way, and, for a while, makes us all believe it too.


Movies last a long time because we love them, even need them. We love 12 Angry Men — a movie that is still very much alive — and will be, for a long time — because it tells us things that we want to hear and believe, and others that would trouble and provoke us more, if Rose and Lumet and Fonda didn’t argue so well. First, the movie frightens us a little when it says that life is hard and dangerous, and confusing, and hangs by a thread, and that dark secrets sometimes drive an argument, and that the truth of a murder is something we may never really know, but that the truth of execution by the state is something that should never be a foregone conclusion. Then it soothes us when it also says — and this is the film’s most important quality — that if you talk well and truthfully, good men (and good women) will listen. Listen.

We love Fonda as Juror No. 8, because he is the man who tells us all this, the teacher who speaks for justice and democracy and for the truth. And we love Lee J. Cobb as Juror No. 3 because he is the dark-souled guy — the disappointed father, the brutal boss, the angry man — who, finally, listens.

Ladies and gentleman of the jury, have you reached a verdict…?
Extras: The 0riginal 1955 “Studio One” version (see below), with an introduction by Paley Center curator Ron Simon; The 1956 TV drama Tragedy in a Temporary Town (1956), scripted by Rose and directed by Lumet; Interviews with Lumet, screenwriter Walter Bernstein (about Lumet), Simon (about Rose), cinematographer John Bailey (about Kaufman); a booklet with an essay by law professor Thane Rosenbaum; Original trailer.

Also: Twelve Angry Men (Four Stars) U.S.; Franklin Schaffner, 1954 (EI Entertainment)      Almost no television show epitomized the so-called Golden Age of live TV drama like “Studio One” — a series that, from 1948 to 1958, presented to American audiences, everywhere within reach of a TV signal, a golden decade of quality live original theater, by some of the best young talent in New York. (“Playhouse 90,” which had longer formats and just as strong a pedigree was the decade’s other great dramatic show.) And Studio One‘s inarguable masterpiece was the original September 26, 1954 production of writer Reginald Rose‘s “Twelve Angry Men,” directed by Franklin Schaffner, a knockout drama about the stormy deliberations of an all-male jury in a murder trial. In Rose’s teleplay, one lone juror, No. 8, holds out, and gradually, one by one, he begins to turn his fellow jurors around.

It’s a theatrical TV tour-de-force of marvelously sustained tension, with showy bravura roles for all twelve actors: Robert Cummings (his all-time best performance in Henry Fonda’s later movie role of the determined Juror No. 8), plus Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold (as the main heavies, Jurors No. 3 and No. 10), Paul Hartman, John Beal, Walter Abel, George Voskovec (Juror No. 11 in both TV show and movie), Lee Phillips, Joseph Sweeney (Juror No. 9, here and for Lumet), Bart Burns, Will West and Norman Fell (in Martin Balsam’s role as Juror No. 1.) Cummings must have been disappointed when  he didn’t get a chance to repeat his role as Juror No. 8, a performance that won him an Emmy. On the other hand, Fonda, by now, owns the role in all our minds, just as he owns Tom Heggen’s “Mister Roberts” and Tom Joad in Steinbeck’s and Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath.

The teleplay/movie/play also has one of those clearly articulated social themes and messages, that here really works, really resonates — largely because the drama becomes such an overwhelmingly physical experience. Rose conceived “Twelve Angry Men” after pulling jury duty himself, and his teleplay and later screen version are famous for the way they capture the feel of a jury room — the claustrophobia, the battering friction, and here, the battering heat — and for the way Rose and his directors use the repeated jury-room rituals (the ballots, the discussions, the breaks) to keep building constant suspense.

We know after a while where Twelve Angry Men is going. But it remains endlessly fascinating to see just how Juror No. 8 will get there, facing each argument, overcoming each obstacle. Although the movie is sometimes (wrong-headedly, I think) dismissed as typical ‘50s left-wing  message drama stuff, it’s never lost its ability to transfix an audience, as Juror No. 8 — sometimes quietly and reasonably, sometimes with fiery gumption and a near-scary, icy assertiveness — keeps arguing his case, keeps breaking down the resistance of each of his jury room opponents, winning over finally even the most stubborn and prejudiced of them:  Jurors No. 3 and 10 ( Tone and Arnold).

Rose‘s “Twelve Angry Men” is most famous of course for the 1957 movie version, usually called 12 Angry Men (see above) that was later made from it. That 12 Angry Men (the use of the numeral came with the film and maybe from a studio marketing decision) was brilliantly staged by Lumet, and is now firmly established as one of the all-time classic American movies. Rose’s expanded script has been staged in theaters many times since — and also remade in the 1997 TV version, directed by William Friedkin, and starring Jack Lemmon as No. 8, as well as the engrossing but quite different Russian film version, 12, made last year by Nikita Mikhalkov.

But there’s still something unique and thrilling about watching the original 1954 “Men” and trying to imagine how it must have struck audiences when it was broadcast live into their living rooms on that long-ago September night, seething with the white heat passion of Rose’s words, and of the actor’s virtuoso clashes, and caught with masterful design and clarity by director Schaffner in the booth, and by his cameras on stage. Here and elsewhere, we can see why they call that period a “Golden Age” of drama: a memorable era created by a mix of great chancy scripts, strong directors, and dedicated, gifted and hungry young actors. We can also see why even the most celebrated Golden Age dramas, like the original versions of Paddy Chayefsky’s “Marty” and Rod Serling‘s “Patterns” and “Requiem for a Heavyweight” — along with other excellent work by writers like Gore Vidal, Tad Mosel, James Costigan and George Axelrod — are so little seen today. These live video plays were preserved on kinescopes, photographed from TV showings at the time, and their visual qualities suffer, compared to the slick, clear images we’re used to today. (“I Love Lucy,” which was shot on film, was an anomaly; it still looks great, and probably much as the best TV dramas would still look, if they’d had a producer as sharp as Desi Arnaz.)

Still, dramatically, they’re often amazing, and the fact that they were shot live — by genius young directors like Lumet, John Frankenheimer, Arthur Penn, Robert Mulligan and “Studio One” mainstay Schaffner, gives them a real electricity and excitement. Nowhere more so than in Reginald Rose’s original Twelve Angry Men.

Also: Tragedy in a Temporary Town (U.S.: Sidney Lumet, 1956) Three Stars. From the ’50s live drama series, “The Alcoa Hour”: An earlier collaboration between writer Reginald Rose and director Lumet, in which a town for  mirgant workers is thrown into chaos, racism and lynch fever by a mysterious attack. The cast is strong: Lloyd Bridges plays a troubled father,  Jack Warden (Juror No. 7 in12 Angry Men) is a leader of the mob and they’re supported by Edward Binns (Juror No. 6),  Will Kuluva, Rafael Campos, Betty Lou Keim and Robert Emhardt. The show is only preserved on  grainy kinescope, but it’s still a powerful anti-racist, anti-lynching drama and Rose’s social conscience shines through every scene. So does Lumet’s.

Reginald Rose


Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: Classic. 12 Angry Men (Lumet); Twelve Angry Men (Schaffner)”

  1. Great write-up of 12 Angry Men. In my opinion, Jack Warden’s character is the worst of the bunch (even though Cobb has the worst temper.) He is indifferent to the process and outcome and only wants to end as soon as possible. When he decides to change his verdict to not guilty…it’s enough to turn your stomach.


awesome stuff. OK I would like to contribute as well by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to modify. check it out at All custom premade files, many of them totally free to get. Also, check out Dow on: Wilmington on DVDs: How to Train Your Dragon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Darjeeling Limited, The Films of Nikita Mikhalkov, The Hangover, The Human Centipede and more ...

cool post. OK I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to customize. check it out at All custom templates, many of them dirt cheap or free to get. Also, check out Downlo on: Wilmington on Movies: I'm Still Here, Soul Kitchen and Bran Nue Dae

awesome post. Now I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some beautiful and easy to modify. take a look at All custom premade files, many of them free to get. Also, check out DownloadSoho.c on: MW on Movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Paranormal Activity 2, and CIFF Wrap-Up

Carrie Mulligan on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Great Gatsby

isa50 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Gladiator; Hell's Half Acre; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Rory on: Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

Andrew Coyle on: Wilmington On Movies: Paterson

tamzap on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Magnificent Seven, Date Night, Little Women, Chicago and more …

rdecker5 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Ivan's Childhood

Ray Pride on: Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon