Study Guide

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men Introduction


Release Year: 1957

Genre: Crime, Drama

Director: Sidney Lumet

Writer: Reginald Rose

Stars: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam


Have you ever heard the expression herding cats? It's all about situations when you just can't seem to get people to agree on anything or coordinate their efforts. Like cats, people have strong and oh, let's just go ahead and say, stubborn personalities.

You could probably summarize the plot of 12 Angry Men as: "Herding cats… with life and death at stake." That's right: this is the story of one jury that just can't decide on a verdict. And why is that? Well, one man decides to take on a room full of really stubborn cats and get them to give a Not Guilty verdict for a kid they all think murdered his own father.

Enter Juror #8.

Here's a guy with a strong sense of justice and sympathy. Juror #8 wants to do everything he can to help the kid on trial for murder, and he stands up against all the other jurors who are convinced that the kid is guilty. It's not easy, but over time, Juror #8 uses all his smarts and moral arguments to convince these other jurors to change their minds. Oh, yeah, and along the way, he restores our faith in democracy and human goodness.

Not bad, eh?

Released in 1957, 12 Angry Men was nominated for three Academy Awards and got a pretty decent response from critics. On the other hand, it didn't do very well at the box office, since color films were just starting to come out, and people were less tempted to see an old fashioned-looking black and white flick like 12 Angry Men. It was only later, when networks started showing the movie on TV, that people really started getting behind the thing. You might even say that people started off with a really rigid attitude toward the movie, but then were slowly convinced to change their minds about it…

Sound familiar? (Pssst. It's just like the plot of the movie.)

What is 12 Angry Men About and Why Should I Care?

Have you ever tried to make decisions with a group of people? How about a group of people who've been picked at random and who have completely different personalities and worldviews? Well, if you have, chances are that you've come to a point where you just wished that one person could step in and make decisions for the whole group.

There's only one problem with this wish, and that's the fact that you're basically wishing that you could get rid of democracy and go straight to a dictatorship.

What's wrong with a dictatorship? The first answer we'd have to come up with is one word—RISK. Sure, you might get yourself a really nice dictator who makes good decisions. But you're totally kaput if you get someone bad.

Just look at Juror #7 in this movie; a person who will pick any verdict as long as he can get to a baseball game before it starts. Is this the person you want deciding the life or death of another human being? It's for this reason that our juries tend to decide things democratically. Yes, it can get super annoying and time-consuming, but it's a whole lot better than what you might wind up with if only one person were in charge.

Okay, so now we've got ourselves a democracy, and we need to figure out how to make it work. That means we need to learn how to be patient and convincing in order to help sway a group's opinion—and that's where we can learn a whole lot from Juror #8 in 12 Angry Men. This is a person who is smart, observant, patient, and sympathetic—all things that you need to be if you're going to be successful in making decisions with a group.

It's true that you'll never really need to learn this stuff if your plans to become the Overlord of Earth pay off (if they do, remember who helped you with your homework oh benevolent one). But just in case that doesn't happen, why not curl up and watch 12 Angry Men?

Trivia

It turns out that 12 Angry Men was nominated for three Academy Awards in 1958, but it lost all three to the same movie. And that movie was (drumroll please…) Bridge on the River Kwai. Okay, so if you're not a film snob or eighty years old, you might not know what that is. (Source.)

Director Sidney Lumet actually locked himself and the actors in the tiny jury room for long periods of rehearsal to help give them a sense of what it would be like to be cooped up together for hours and hours. (Source.)

Because the producers didn't have much money, and because they only needed one set, the makers of 12 Angry Men completely shot the thing in only 21 days. That's pretty decent time for any movie, let alone one of the most famous movies ever. (Source.)

12 Angry Men Resources

Websites

12 Angry Men at IMDb.com
The inside scoop on all things 12 Angry Men.

AMC "Greatest Films"
We already know that lots of people consider 12 Angry Men to be one of the best films ever, but AMC is here to tell us some of the reasons why.

12 Angry Men at MGM.com
Check out what the folks at the MGM production studio think about their sixty-year-old masterpiece.

Video

Original Television Version of 12 Angry Men
Here's the original TV version of 12 Angry Men that first appeared on American TV back in 1954. It impressed Henry Fonda so much that he approached screenwriter Reginald Rose and asked him to turn it into a feature film. That's what you call a successful audition. Oh, yeah, and people totally thought that all traces of this original version had been lost until it was rediscovered in 2003.

Original Trailer for 12 Angry Men
Would this have made you want to watch the movie back in 1957?

Facts You Didn't Know
Yup, turns out there's a lot of things you didn't know about this movie and how it does its thing.

Book or TV Adaptations

1997 Remake
Nothing lets good actors show off like a good ol' round of 12 Angry Men, so Jack Lemmon and some buddies decided to remake the thing back in '97.

Audio

12 Angry Men Original Soundtrack
You might not have noticed the music with all that amazing drama going on, but here it is again in case you're looking for another listen. You might not have noticed the music with all that amazing drama going on, but here it is again in case you're looking for another listen.

New Music for a Stage Performance
In 2009, the Granary Theatre in Cork, Ireland decided to put on a production of 12 Angry Men and used this music to set the scene.

Rap Synopsis of the Movie
Tired of hearing the movie summarizing in non-rap language? Then you're in luck.

Articles and Interviews

Taking on Sexism with a Parody
Here's a great article talking about how comedian Amy Schumer's parody of 12 Angry Men helps us understand sexism by going after one of the most male-dominated movies ever… in case the title 12 Angry Men didn't give that away.

Ethical Issues in 12 Angry Men
We might like to think that this movie is a feel-good story of how twelve men learn to behave morally. But the truth is that there are some major problems with how they reach their verdict, and here they are.

The Kid Was Guilty
In this hilarious article, the Onion's AV Club breaks down why the jurors in 12 Angry men probably let a killer go free. Doesn't that just warm your heart?

Images

Classic Pic of All Twelve Jurors
Here's a snapshot of the whole gang in all their glory. Just look at how happy they all are to be stuck in a hot jury room!

Juror #3 Isn't Impressed
All the other jurors are changing their votes, and this dude is convinced he's the only sane person left in the room. Way to go, Lee J. Cobb.

Shot from Above
And now what you've all been waiting for… a shot of what the jurors would look like to a pigeon flying around in the jury room.