12 Angry Men (Criterion Collection)
Three landmark 1950’s television dramas, Paddy Chayefsky’s "Marty," Rod Serling’s "Patterns" and Reginald Rose’s "12 Angry Men," were all translated to the silver screen with great success. The most popular of the three was "Marty," the film capturing four Oscars, including Best Picture of 1955. The least known is "Patterns," an expose on the treacherous corporate ladder. Produced in 1954 for the Studio One program, "12 Angry Men," concerns itself with the sequestered jury of a gruesome, patricide case. Although eleven of the jurors are initially convinced of the accused boy’s guilt, one man is not. In the course of the drama, he attempts to win the others to his side. The excellent television version won its share of awards, including three Tonys, among them a Best Actor award for Robert Cummings as the conscientious Juror #8.
The project caught the attention of Henry Fonda, who, seeing the potential of the drama as a film, produced the 1957 movie version, claiming the lead role for himself. Making his film debut, Sidney Lumet was chosen to direct. Writer Rose expanded the script from the original 60-minute TV version, fleshing out each of the characters more substantially, and emphasizing the theme of racial prejudice against the young, Hispanic defendant. Two lesser known actors were retained from the original teleplay. The other roles were given to some of the finest character actors in the history of film: Ed Begley, Jack Warden, Robert Webber, Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall and Jack Klugman. In the principal role of the hotheaded Juror #3, hell-bent on having the youth executed, Lee J. Cobb gives yet another virtuoso characterization. And Fonda, with his introverted acting style, adds more depth and inner resolve to the role of Juror #8 than did Cummings.
Criterion has just added "12 Angry Men" to its Blu-ray offerings. Though in black and white, the film looks remarkable on the new release. The action occurs during a sweltering summer day; and, with the lifelike clarity of the picture, the viewer can actually see the sweat exuding from the pores of the actors. The sharpness enhances the many close-up shots, with which Lumet so effectively heightens the drama. No less clear is the fine sound quality, which allows every word of Rose’s powerful script to be clearly heard.
In addition to the definitive film transfer of "12 Angry Men," Criterion also offers the original television version as a special feature. Other valuable extras include introductions to both versions, and documentaries on the making of the film, and the key players involved. If you are a fan of great acting, this brilliant ensemble piece, enhanced by Criterion’s superb presentation, is highly recommended.
12 Angry Men