Released in 1957, 12 Angry Men is the best courtroom film, although it doesn’t take place in court, but in the jury room. It is simply, one of the best dramatic films ever made.
The film, based on a play, was the first feature film directed by Sidney Lumet, who would have 73 directing credits, including 43 feature films, and be nominated four times for an Academy Award for Best Director. This was the first (and only) film produced by actor Henry Fonda. Even though it was a modest commercial success and a solid critical success, Fonda vowed to not produce films again.
The film’s writing is taunt and feels like a string is pulled that slowly unravels a fabric. Little by little the suspense builds, as does the drama between members of the jury. The film starts with what looks like a slam-dunk of a trial, but one member of the jury is not so sure. He votes not guilty and that sets up the rest of the film as each piece of evidence is examined and evaluated in great detail. Jurors use their own sense of logic and even their own perspective on society in arguing the points of evidence. Prejudices are exposed and confronted. The atmosphere in the jury room is tense.
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay. It did not win any, and surprisingly, none of the actors were nominated.
You have to see all 96 minutes to fully appreciate the ratcheted-up drama. It’s worth it.
Here’s a look at the superb cast of 12 jurors.
Martin Balsam. A member of the Actor’s Studio, he appeared in many stage plays. He Co-starred in many films including Psycho, Catch-22, Hombre, All the President’s Men, Cape Fear and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He was a co-star on Archie Bunker’s Place and many more television roles.
John Fiedler. The mousy actor played Mr. Peterson on The Bob Newhart Show, added the voice of Piglet for Winnie the Pooh, and many other roles including The Odd Couple film and television series.
Lee J. Cobb. A longtime theater performer he was the first to appear as Willy Lohan in Death of a Salesman. His film career began in the 1930’s and was later nominated as Best Supporting Actor for On the Waterfront. On television he was known as Judge Garth in The Virginian and was the investigating detective in The Exorcist.
E.G. Marshall. Usually a dramatic actor, he had over 150 film and television roles. Played the gentleman with a big phobia in Creepshow, and started in the 1960’s lawyer series The Defenders.
Jack Klugman. We know him as Dr. Quincy, Oscar Madison and many other characters in his long career.
Edward Binns. A veteran television and film actor. He was an early member of the Actor’s Studio and appeared in hundreds of hours of live television. Played a lot of police officers in his career.
Jack Warden. Crazy Like a Fox and many other television and film roles. Usually wise-cracking or very serious characters, he appeared in Warren Beatty films like Shampoo and Heaven Can Wait, both times nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Was in Brian’s Song as George Halas, and had a dual role in Used Cars.
Henry Fonda. Young Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Roberts and Tom Joad. Fonda had a long film and stage career and was awarded a Best Actor Oscar for his last role for On Golden Pond.
Joseph Sweeney. His first credit was in 1918, but his career took in 1950’s television. Many dramatic television roles in a variety of series until his death in 1963.
Ed Begley. Started in radio, and transitioned to film and television. Possessed a low, distinctive voice that landed him voice work. Played many gruff and pushy characters. Father of Ed Begley, Jr.
George Voskovec. A playwright and director who immigrated from Czechoslovakia, he worked on the American stage before finding success on television. He was also an accomplished songwriter.
Robert Webber. A versatile actor whose mild mannered looks got him many television and film roles. Played military officers, businessmen and authority figures. Had a role as an officer in The Dirty Dozen and appeared in many Blake Edwards films including 10.