One of the greatest courtroom dramas ever made spends less than five minutes in the actual courtroom. Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, the movie version of a celebrated teleplay by Reginald Rose, takes a riveting cast of stage, television, and film actors, places them in one set, and for ninety blissful minutes lets them bully and bluster, insinuate and pontificate, and generally hold forth in dazzling fashion maximizing a dramatic sequence of events which has only gained in impressive stature over the years since its initial release.
12 Angry Men (Blu-ray)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 96 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
Release Date: November 22, 2011
Review Date: November 15, 2011
A jury of twelve New Yorkers is brought together to decide the guilt or innocence of an 18-year old slum kid accused of murdering his father with a switchblade knife thrust into his heart. There is a fair amount of circumstantial evidence against the boy and two eyewitnesses, and yet juror number eight (Henry Fonda) casts the lone not guilty-vote in the initial balloting. Despite continual heated protests from three jurists (Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Ed Begley), juror eight begins a slow but systematic analysis of the various facts of the case casting doubt on the evidence as presented as other jurors begin to consider their own interpretations of the facts in reflection.
The original hour-long television version of the story won three Emmy Awards in 1954, and Reginald Rose (who won an Emmy for his teleplay and who co-produced this movie version) has skillfully expanded the script for the movie adding various informative bits of character for the twelve jurors to take many of them away from being merely narrow stereotypes. Almost every one of them, particularly the quieter members of the jury, grows from these expansions by the original author. The various pieces of evidence are also allowed to be poured over in greater detail justifying more clearly the changes in vote from guilty to not guilty for many of the jury members. As for Lumet’s direction, it’s a marvel (how many other directors earn an Oscar nomination for directing their first film, one that’s basically staged in a single confined space?). With only the enclosed area of the jury room to work in, he manages to keep the camera moving subtly but effectively, zooming in for telling close-ups where appropriate and blocking actors in fascinating combinations at pivotal moments in the narrative. Rarely has so much tension been established so adeptly, though he’s helped immeasurably by his brilliant actors and the dazzling script.
The cast rehearsed for two weeks before a single foot of film was shot, so is it any wonder that these performances have become the definitive interpretations for these characters? Two actors were imported from the original TV version for the movie: the elderly juror nine played by Joseph Sweeney (marvelously cagey and wry) and the immigrant juror eleven enacted by George Voskovec (admirably solid). But then, the cast is filled with past and future Tony, Oscar, and Emmy winners, and each one makes an indelible impression. Henry Fonda’s thoughtful, unshowy performance, of course, reminds us of all of the stalwart but quiet heroes he had previously played from Wyatt Earp to Tom Joad and Mister Roberts. Lee J. Cobb is galvanizing as the fiery-tempered blowhard who’s a bully on the outside and a marshmallow on the inside. E.G. Marshall is his polar opposite: a quiet, thoughtful man who’s determined not to get drawn into the personal bickering and backstabbing that is happening around him. Great as well are Ed Begley as the bigot (perhaps Reginald Rose’s least successful attempt to give more depth to one of the stereotypical characters), Jack Klugman as the timid former slum kid now fighting to be heard, and Martin Balsam as the even-tempered foreman trying to keep the erratic proceedings under control.
The film is presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. This is another sterling black and white Criterion high definition offering with the grain structure of the film mercifully intact but not possessing a hint of dust or other age-related artifacts. If sharpness lags, it’s from the original photography and not from the transfer, and the grayscale with its perfect contrast is positively sublime with crisp whites and terrific black levels on display. You’ll notice every bead of sweat, every piece of clothing sopping with perspiration, and every line on a face or freckle on a lip. It’s really remarkable picture quality. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is very typical for its era. The dialogue is crystal clear even though there is some hiss on the soundtrack that hasn’t been eliminated. There isn’t much resonance to the bits of Kenyon Hopkins music that pop up at the beginning and end, but sound effects like rain or in that memorable moment when a wad of paper tossed by Jack Warden hits a whirring fan blade and pops Joseph Sweeney in the head come through clearly and cleanly.
The original television version of Twelve Angry Men as presented live on Studio One is offered in 1080i and runs for 50 ¾ minutes. Though the star cast is more than capable (Robert Cummings won an Emmy in the Fonda role, and Franchot Tone is the fiery juror three), none of them is the equal of the movie cast. Directed by Franklin Schaffner who won an Emmy for his work, the play flies by and is complete with a few tongue-tied gaffes by its leading man and with some jerky camera movements redolent of a live broadcast.
Ron Simon introduces the kinescope of the TV version is a 14-minute video interview (in 1080p) with one glaring error: the show did not win the Emmy in 1954 for Program of the Year. It was nominated but lost to “Operation Undersea” on Walt Disney’s Disneyland.
“12 Angry Men from TV to the Big Screen” describes the journey of the teleplay from its celebrated TV origins to being produced by Henry Fonda and Reginald Rose for the movies with its less than $500,000 budget and short shooting schedule. This 25 ½-minute feature is narrated by Vance Kopley and is in 1080p.
A compilation of Sidney Lumet interviews in which he discusses his early career as a child actor and how he ended up a director on TV and later films is offered running 23 minutes in 1080i.
“Reflections on Sidney Lumet” is an interview with blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein, a close friend and working colleague of Lumet’s for many years, who offers his views on the man and the artist in this 9 ½-minute vignette presented in 1080p.
“On Reginald Rose” is curator Ron Simon’s insights into writer Reginald Rose which runs for 15 minutes and is in 1080p.
Tragedy in a Temporary Town is a 1956 live television drama written by Reginald Rose, directed by Sidney Lumet, and starring Lloyd Bridges in a story typical of Rose’s views on prejudice and the mob mentality. Co-starring Jack Warden and Edward Binns, both of whom would appear the next year in the movie of 12 Angry Men, this kinescope runs 55 ¼ minutes in 1080i.
Cinematographer John Bailey discusses cinematographer Boris Kaufman in a 38 ¼-minute piece that traces his life from Russia to Paris, Canada, and the United States and discusses his work with Elia Kazan (three movies including his Oscar win for On the Waterfront) and Sidney Lumet (seven films) with particular attention to his work in 12 Angry Men and The Fugitive Kind (also a Criterion release). It’s in 1080p.
The theatrical trailer runs 2 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
The enclosed 22-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some beautiful tinted sketches of each of the principal actors in the movie, and professor Thane Rosendaum’s illuminating piece on Lumet’s work on the movie.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
A magnificent film with memorable performances and riveting dramatic ebb and flow, 12 Angry Men comes beautifully to Blu-ray with a first-rate transfer and a gaggle of valuable bonus material. Highest recommendation!