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.
The film was based on a series of investigative articles by Malcolm Johnson in the New York Sun that won a Pulitzer Prize. Writer Budd Schulberg was fascinated by them, and used them as the skeleton of his screenplay. Uploaded to Photobucket by jedimoonshyne9.
Brando at his best. That’s really all you need to know to put On the Waterfront at the top of your “must-see” list. And it’s more than just the “I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender” scene. It’s a story about the mob, and corruption, and loyalty.
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Like most great films, On the Waterfront has a terrific cast. In addition to Brando (did I mention this was him at his best?), the ensemble included Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, and Rod Steiger. Just as important were the people behind the camera. Elia Kazan directed, Budd Schulberg wrote the screenplay, and Leonard Bernstein composed the music. Not surprisingly, the film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won 8, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay.
The legacy of the movie is evident in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years, 100… series. It ranked number 8 in …100 Movies; Terry Malloy (Brando’s character) was number 23 hero in …100 Heroes and Villains; it earned number 22 in …100 Film Scores; and “I coulda been a contender” ranked number 3 in …100 Movie Quotes.