Study Guide

12 Angry Men Behind the Scenes

  • Director

    Producers Henry Fonda and Reginald Rose might never have gone on to produce another movie, but first-time director Sidney Lumet sure did. After getting his first crack at a feature film with 12 Angry Men, Lumet would go on to direct classic films like Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), and The Verdict (1982). During his life, he directed over 50 movies, eventually receiving an Honorary Academy Award and getting nominations for 14 of his films.

    Throughout 12 Angry Men, you might notice some really interesting decisions that Lumet decided to make in his directing debut. For starters, the movie opens with lots of wide-angle shots that show us the entire jury room. But if you look closely, you'll see that the camera slowly gets tighter and tighter on individual actors as the movie goes on. We don't even realize it consciously, but Lumet is making us feel more confined as the sweaty jurors get angrier and more desperate. This is just one of the many reasons why 12 Angry Men is considered one of the great all-time movies and Lumet one of the great all-time directors.

  • Screenwriter

    Reginald Rose originally wrote the script for 12 Angry Men as a "teleplay," or a play that was meant to be acted out on television, back in 1954. But not everyone realizes that Rose actually based this play on his own experience as a juror a few years before. When asked about it some time later, Rose remembered: "I was on a jury for a manslaughter case, and we got into this terrific, furious, eight-hour argument in the jury room. I was writing one-hour dramas for Studio One then, and I thought, wow, what a setting for a drama" (source).

    So it's safe to say that Rose's personal experience strongly influenced the script that would eventually earn him an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay.

  • Production Studio

    You hear lots of stories about how famous films later get made into knock-off "Made for TV" movies, but in this case, 12 Angry Men started out as a play written for television by a guy named Reginald Rose. It was only after this play became a success that Rose was approached by actor Henry Fonda (who plays Juror #8) to make a feature film out of the script. Neither Rose nor Fonda had ever produced a movie before, but they both figured, "Hey, how hard could it be?" and went on to make movie history.

    Despite the movie's fame today, making the thing wasn't easy for either Fonda or Rose. Since they were both first-time producers, they took a gamble on a first-time feature film director, Sidney Lumet. They spent only a few hundred thousand dollars filming the thing, which makes sense, given that the whole movie is just twelve actors in one room. There aren't many giant explosions or car chases.

    And by "there aren't many," we mean "there aren't any."

    By the time all was said and done, 12 Angry Men flopped at the box office, and Henry Fonda vowed never to produce a movie again. It was only later that the movie got traction with viewers on TV and became an American classic. By that time, Fonda and Rose were on to different stuff.

  • Production Design

    Increasing Heat and Closeness

    By increasing heat, we don't actually mean that director Sidney Lumet made the actors in 12 Angry Men work in a sauna (although that might have been fun). But what we mean here is that Lumet made the conscious choice to start us off with a lot of wide-angle shots of the jury room. These shots allow us to see everything that's going on at once, and they remind us that this movie was originally written as a play.

    But as the movie unfolds and the tension builds, Lumet brings his camera closer and closer to the actors' faces, making us feel claustrophobic in the process and building tension without really letting us know what he's doing. By the end of the movie, all we can really see are the sweat-covered faces of the jurors yelling in each other's faces. And you know what? This totally brings out the uncomfortable reactions that Lumet wants.

  • Music (Score)

    Kenyon Hopkins's soundtrack to 12 Angry Men never came out commercially, but check out this link if you want to give it a listen on its own. As you can probably tell, the music is pretty light and typical for a 1950s movie. But it also does a great job at setting the stage for the beginning and end of the film. At the beginning, the music sounds a little sad, especially when we get a shot of the eighteen year-old kid on trial with tears rolling down his cheeks. At the end of the movie, though, this same sort of music sounds uplifting, because we know that Juror #8 and social justice in general have won the day.

  • Fandoms

    Since the movie was first released in 1957, you might not find a lot of the original fans of 12 Angry Men hanging around on the Internet. But that doesn't mean that people don't want to get together to talk about the thing anymore. It's just that most of these places tend to be general fan pages for Classic Movies, like the one you see here. But if you really wanna dig deep and find some friends who like this movie as much as you, we'd recommend heading to the Facebook fan page and giving the movie a big Like.