Tag Archives: 12 Angry Men

Film: 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men was the first film directed by Sidney Lumet, whose courtroom drama "The Verdict" has already been honored on this list. Uploaded by prodeoetpatria.wordpress.com.

It’s not a good thing to feel claustrophobic during a movie. And except for a couple of brief scenes at beginning and end, the “action” in 12 Angry Men (1957) takes place in a closed jury room. As they say, in the hands of a lesser director this would have been a problem. But the great Sidney Lumet (Network, The Verdict, et. al.) took this on as his very first production, and showed why he would be a directorial force for decades to come.

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If you haven’t seen 12 Angry Men, I don’t want to spoil the plot. Suffice it to say that a jury of all men debate the fate of a defendant who’s one of “those people,” and most initially consider him guilty. Henry Fonda is the lone dissenter, and he uses his powers of logic and persuasion to try to convince the others that they may be convicting an innocent man.

The film wouldn’t have worked without a terrific cast, and it had one. Among the jurors were E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, and Jack Klugman – a who’s who of great 1950s era character actors. Most forceful of all was Lee J. Cobb, leading those who believed in the defendant’s guilt. 12 Angry Men is considered one of the top courtroom dramas of all time (AFI considered it number two), and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars. And if it hadn’t come out in the same year as Bridge on the River Kwai, it might have won them.

Actor: Henry Fonda

Perhaps Fonda's greatest role was in 12 Angry Men, which he also produced and which was nominated for Best Picture. Uploaded by battleshippretension.com.

The one word that comes to mind when I think of Henry Fonda is “unflappable.” I can’t remember a scene in any of his films, though I’m sure there must have been some, where he was anxious or distraught. Maybe that’s why he was often cast as an authority figure.

He was President in Young Mr. Lincoln and Fail-Safe… a marshal in My Darling Clementine… a college professor in The Male Animal… a nominee for Secretary of State in Advise and Consent… a police commissioner in Madigan… and a military officer in Fort Apache, Mister Roberts, The Longest Day, and Midway.

Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath, the role that made him a star. Uploaded by robertegger.org.

Fonda won acclaim for his roles in other films, including The Ox-Bow Incident and 12 Angry Men (probably his finest role). He received an Academy Award nomination for The Grapes of Wrath and finally won for his final major role in On Golden Pond. He also received the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1980. In addition to film, he also acted in sixteen Broadway productions, and was recognized for Lifetime Achievement by the Tony Awards in 1979.

Of course, he became the paterfamilias of a prominent acting family that includes son Peter Fonda, daughter Jane Fonda, and granddaughter Bridget Fonda. Sadly, he wasn’t particularly close to his children. Yet both Peter and Jane were at his bedside when he died from heart disease in 1982.

He couldn’t describe his acting style, and his natural greatness frustrated Jane, who worked hard on what’s called Method acting. But it’s that effortless, smooth, natural grace that we remember when we think of Henry Fonda. President, Professor, Admiral, Marshal, Commissioner Fonda.