12 Angry Men appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not flawless, the image looked pretty solid.
The biggest distraction stemmed from grain. Hoo boy, did the movie display a lot of graininess! That was a consistent presence throughout the film, and it tended to make the image a little murkier than I’d like. However, this was almost certainly a vestige of the original photography. Heavy grain impacted both the DVDs, so I suspect that it’s just inherent to the original photography.
Even though grain tends to seem more intrusive on Blu-ray – where the higher resolution makes it more obvious – I thought the grain seen here impacted the image less than on the DVDs. With those, I thought the grain affected sharpness, but that wasn’t the case here. The earlier releases seemed fuzzy due to the grain, but the Blu-ray demonstrated consistently good definition. Virtually no soft shots emerged, as the flick appeared accurate and distinctive despite all the grain.
I noticed no issues with shimmering or jaggies, and edge haloes were minor at worst. In terms of print flaws, I noticed a smattering of small specks, but these weren’t a significant issue. Blacks were deep and tight, and shadows showed good definition. The mild source defects caused me to drop my grade to a “B+”, but overall it impressed.
I also felt reasonably satisfied with the monaural soundtrack of 12 Angry Men. To call this an unambitious mix would be an understatement. The track offered very little score, and effects were essentially restricted to the creaks of chairs and the bumps of closed doors. Both sounded acceptable, though they generally were rather thin and without much range.
Speech accounted for every important aspect of the mix. At all times, the dialogue was intelligible and fairly natural. Some lines could be a bit brittle, but that wasn’t a major concern. The speech remained acceptably concise given the track’s age. Nothing here excelled, but the audio was perfectly solid for something as old and low-key.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the Special Edition DVD from 2008? The audio appeared a little clearer, as it lacked the mild edginess of its predecessor. The Blu-ray also looked tighter and bettered defined, with clearer shadows. Both showed similar levels of grain and print defects, but the improvements in definition were notable.
The Criterion Blu-ray includes none of the same extras as the MGM. We open with the television version of 12 Angry Men. Directed by Franklin Schaffner, this one runs 50 minutes, 42 seconds. Obviously it’s a quicker, rougher take on the story, and it’s significantly less satisfying.
I’d love to have seen the TV version first, as I imagine it’d be more enjoyable when seen without comparison to the more polished movie. The TV edition certainly isn’t bad, and both clearly share many similarities. The feature film simply feels more complete, like it’s a final product and the TV version’s a rough draft. It’s great to see the TV movie and it’s certainly interesting, but it’s not nearly as good as the theatrical version.
(Note that most of the cast is unique to the TV version, but two actors would reprise their roles in the feature film. The 1957 edition brings back Joseph Sweeney and George Voskovec.)
We can watch an introduction from Paley Center for Media curator Ron Simon. He chats for 14 minutes, four seconds as he discusses TV in the mid-1950s as well as aspects of the era’s live drama and this version of 12 Angry Men. Simon delivers a nice overview of details related to the TV production and its participants.
A few featurettes follow. 12 Angry Men: From TV to the Big Screen goes for 25 minutes, 33 seconds and provides notes from film scholar Vance Kepley as he looks at the TV version, the development of the big-screen adaptation, cast, crew and the shoot, the film’s reception, influence and legacy. At the start, Kepley tends to repeat info we heard from Simon’s piece, but once he heads toward the feature film, he gets into unique material. Kepley covers all the bases well and creates an informative piece; it’s too bad he didn’t sit for a full commentary.
A collection of Interviews with Director Sidney Lumet fill 22 minutes, 58 seconds. In these, Lumet talks about his early involvement in theater and movies, getting into TV directing and then films, and making and releasing 12 Angry Men. The different interview sessions combine well to create a coherent piece in which Lumet delivers a lot of good notes about his life and career.
For more about the director, we get the nine-minute, 28-second Reflections on Sidney. Here Fail-Safe screenwriter Walter Bernstein chats about his own career and aspects of working with Lumet. We get a nice first-person perspective in this interesting chat.
We hear about a couple of other film participants next. On Reginald Rose goes for 14 minutes, 59 seconds as Paley Center for Media curator Ron Simon discusses the 12 Angry Men story/screenwriter. Simon tells us about Rose’s life and career, with an emphasis on the latter. This turns into another useful, informative piece.
Next we find On Boris Kaufman. It lasts 38 minutes, 21 seconds as cinematographer John Bailey talks about Men director of photography Kaufman. We learn a bit about Kaufman’s life and a lot about his work, with plenty of examples. Bailey provides a good perspective on his predecessor and helps make this a rich examination of Kaufman’s photography.
Another teleplay shows up via 1956’s Tragedy in a Temporary Town. Written by Reginald Rose and directed by Sidney Lumet, this episode of The Alcoa Hour goes for 55 minutes, 11 seconds and stars Lloyd Bridges and Jack Warden. At a makeshift construction camp, a girl gets assaulted. The inhabitants accuse a Puerto Rican worker and a vigilante mob plans to take justice into their own hands before one man (Bridges) stands up against them.
One can clearly see a connection between Town and 12 Angry Men, as both offer tales in which one man bucks the masses and their emotional/racist reactions. Perhaps because I don’t have a (superior) movie against which to compare it, I like Town more than the TV version of Men. It sags a bit at times, mainly when it leaves the action for some personal/family moments among the characters, but it’s still an interesting take on the climate of the era.
In addition to the film’s Trailer, the set includes a 24-page Booklet. Along with credits and movie-related art, it provides an article from novelist/essayist/law professor Thane Rosenbaum. This isn’t one of Criterion’s most extensive booklets, but it’s a nice addition to the package.
After more than 50 years, 12 Angry Men occasionally shows its age. However, it succeeds much more than it falters, and it remains a gripping piece of drama. The Blu-ray boasts very good picture, perfectly positive audio and a nice roster of supplements. The Criterion Blu-ray becomes the best release of this excellent film and earns a high recommendation from me.
To rate this film visit the Vintage Clasics review of 12 ANGRY MEN