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CRITERION COMPANY

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Sidney Lumet
Cast:
Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Ed Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, Robert Webber
Writing Credits:
Reginald Rose (and story)

Tagline:
Life Is In Their Hands - Death Is On Their Minds!

Synopsis:
Adapted from a TV play, the story takes place entirely in a New York City jury room where 12 men debate the fate of a young man facing a death sentence for stabbing his father to death. Eleven of the men (including characters played by E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, and Jack Warden) are convinced that the accused is guilty. But Mr. Davis (Henry Fonda), juror No. 8, believes the prosecution failed to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and thus is unwilling to convict. As he makes his case to the others, tempers flare, arguments ensue, and prejudices are revealed. Mr. Davis realizes that some jurors have more at stake and remain stubborn, while others are concerned only with getting back to their own lives, justice be damned. Gradually he seeks to get everyone into his "not guilty" corner.

Box Office:
Budget
$350 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 11/22/2011

Bonus:
• Television Version of 12 Angry Men
• “12 Angry Men: From TV to the Big Screen” Featurette
• Interview with Director Sidney Lumet
• “Reflections on Sidney” Featurette
• “On Reginald Rose” Featurette
Tragedy in a Temporary Town Teleplay
• “On Boris Kaufman” Featurette
• Trailer
• Booklet


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


12 Angry Men: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1957)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 16, 2011)

With 1957’s 12 Angry Men, we look at an unusual kind of drama – one set almost entirely in a single room. We view a jury as they go to deliberate a murder case. If they find the defendant (John Savoca) guilty, they condemn him to death, since that’s the only punishment applicable in this situation.

For 11 of the jurors, this seems to be an open and shut case. They quickly decide that the kid did the nasty deed and should be found guilty. However, Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) takes the judge’s (Rudy Bond) instructions to heart. He thinks there’s a reasonable doubt about the kid’s guilt and argues this line. Since the verdict must be unanimous, this creates many arguments. The movie follows the tensions as the 12 jurors deliberate over the case.

50-plus years after its release, Men remains influential and impressive, though it does show its age at times. Adapted from a 1954 live TV production, the framework that binds the characters to the single room acts as both a strength and a weakness, though the positive elements dominate. I think the setting increases the tension inherent in the story, as the tightness and claustrophobia prevent too many opportunities for release. Even when the characters take a short break from deliberations, they still get stuck with each other in the confined space. They can’t escape each other for more than a couple minutes at a time, and that amps up the tension.

On a negative note, though, I think the setting requires director Sidney Lumet to adopt a few showy bits that don’t seem very natural. For instance, when Juror #10 (Ed Begley) releases all of his racial hostility, the others slowly leave the table and put their backs to him. Yeah, we get the point; this scene beats us over the head with their body language. It doesn’t feel realistic to me, as it comes across like something very staged.

Actually, the racial aspects of Men display its most substantial weakness, and I don’t mean that because all the cast members are white men. Men emerged right as the civil rights movement started to blossom, and it often feels like a product of that era. We get periodic speeches intended to remind us that all men are equal and blah blah blah. Of course, I agree with these, but the manner in which these concepts appear feels dated 50 years later, and the film doesn’t integrate them in a smooth way. They always appear just a little too forced.

These are small quibbles I aim at an otherwise strong film, though. Men boasts a simply outstanding cast and conveys its story in an economical manner. We don’t get clumsy exposition for the characters. We learn a little about them in general terms, but the flick doesn’t pound us with those beats. Instead, we simply get a taste for each personality, and the actors make them into real characters. We know almost no specifics about the backgrounds of these men – heck, we don’t even learn any of their names until the final shot – but the movie tells us everything we know if a smooth, subtle way.

Lumet also uses the camera well most of the time. Sure, we find some awkward shots like the ones I mentioned earlier, but usually Lumet ensures that the camera acts as a storytelling device. For instance, when confrontational scenes occur, the camera tends to go in for a tight close-up. It relaxes when the sequence dictates. This doesn’t happen in a ham-fisted and obvious way, however. The visual choices mesh with the story and make it more effective.

All of these factors combine to make a satisfying film. 12 Angry Men occasionally slips, but never for long. Instead, it manages to provide a bright, involving drama.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

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

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main