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You Gotta See This! Part 1
April 19, 2010 - Keith Frederick
Ok, so I figured it was about time I started doing something on the regular here. So today I'm starting what will be a regular feature here on The Rough Cut Blog.
You Gotta See This! will consist of me suggesting older films that deserve a look. I'm not talking about telling people to see "The Godfather." In fact, if you haven't at least taken a shot at watching "The Godfather," this isn't really going to help you. (Hell, I'm not sure there is help for you) No, this feature will let you know about classic films that seem to have been forgotten, lost classics or cult favorites - all of which I think deserve another shot from the public at large.
For the first You Gotta See This! pick, I've chosen...
"12 Angry Men" (1957)
"12 Angry Men" is a courtroom drama that spends all of its time away from the court. The film begins with 12 men of various ages and backgrounds filing into a sequestered juror's room, having to decide the verdict in a murder case. Each is simply known as Juror #1, Juror #2, etc...
The case seems pretty clear - a young boy from the slums seems to have murdered an old man, with a woman across the street apparently having been a witness. An initial vote has all jurors voting for a "guilty" verdict - all but Juror #8 (Henry Fonda). His insistence on re-examining the evidence and the testimony slowly changes the minds of the jurors, even the prejudiced ones.
The final scene, where Juror #3 (character actor Lee J. Cobb) breaks down and admits his bias against the suspect stems from his own estrangement with his son, is simultaneously satisfying and heart-breaking. As the group leaves Juror #3 in tears, voting "not guilty" to give a unanimous verdict, Fonda stays behind, finally helping Cobb put on his suit jacket.
Why Do I Gotta See It?
I know the film buffs out there are confused. "12 Angry Men" is a classic, without question. It stars Henry Fonda, unquestionably a fantastic actor, as well as most of the best character actors of Hollywood's Golden Age. It was directed by Sidney Lumet, a true master. It's even been remade countless times.
But try asking the average person about "12 Angry Men" and you'll likely get a blank look. It's not a film that plays on TV very often, though it really holds up well over the passage of time. It could be that such a hard drama, in black and white, just doesn't hold much appeal to today's audience. And that's a shame.
The performances are top-notch all around, led by Fonda, of course. Cobb is the rigid villain of the piece, a role he had played to near perfection in "On the Waterfront" a few years before. But the rest of the cast was filled with "Hey, I know that face!"-type actors, all of whom filled their role well. Among the cast was Jack Warden (long before Academy Award-nominated roles in "Shampoo" and "Heaven Can Wait"), Jack Klugman (more than a dozen years before "The Odd Couple" and "Quincy, M.E." made him a TV favorite) and Ed Begley Sr. (five years before winning an Oscar for "Sweet Bird of Youth). Honestly, though, when you watch the film, you'll probably recognize 8 of the 12 jurors from other roles.
"12 Angry Men" was Lumet's film debut, having been selected personally by Fonda. Lumet's direction is superb, with tight close-ups on anxious faces and deep focus shots of the jury's tension, like in the confrontations between Fonda and Cobb. Lumet lets the actors tell the story, instead of forcing the action along with lighting tricks or an obtrusive score.
Seriously, you gotta see this!
Juror #3 (Lee J. Cobb, pointing) faces off with Juror #8 (Henry Fonda, second from left) in Sidney Lumet's "12 Angry Men."