12 ANGRY MEN (Sidney Lumet, 1957)
209 West Houston St.
The fate of an eighteen-year-old boy charged with the murder of his father is at stake in Sidney Lumet’s first film, the gripping, genre-defining 12 Angry Men. After a series of establishing shots, a judge sends a dozen New Yorkers into the jurors room, where they need to come to a unanimous verdict that could lead to the execution of the teen. Over the course of about ninety minutes, an all-star cast examines and reexamines the case — and their own personal biases — as the heat increases, both literally and figuratively. At first, the nameless dozen men make small talk, trying to be friendly, but it’s not long before some of them are at others’ throats, primarily the gruff Lee J. Cobb, who has it in for the calm and thoughtful Henry Fonda, who is ready to stand alone if necessary for what he believes in. The other uniformly excellent actors playing a very specific cross-section of white, male America are John Fiedler, Martin Balsam, Robert Webber, E. G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, Joseph Sweeney, and George Voskovec. “I tell you, we were lucky to get a murder case,” Webber tells Fonda, but he won’t feel the same as the tension reaches near-violent proportions. 12 Angry Men is a searing examination of the criminal justice system as well as basic human instincts, behavior, and common decency. The Philadelphia-born Lumet, whose parents were both in the Yiddish theater, is able to tell the story in cinematic ways despite its taking place mostly in one small, sweaty room, letting the intense acting drive the narrative; the director, who was nominated for an Oscar for the film, would go on to make such other classic New York City dramas as The Pawnbroker, The Anderson Tapes, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Prince of the City. Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin, 12 Angry Men, based on an original teleplay by Reginald Rose, will be presented in a DCP restoration at Film Forum July 5-11.