I only picked up on this film within the last few years due to being given a rather large book for my Birthday titled “1001 Movies: You Must See Before You Die” so after flicking through the pages I stopped on this film and since then have probably watched it 6 or 7 times. You know a film is good when, even though you’ve seen it before and know the ending, you can happily watch it again and again. I love old films, I love the old styles and more importantly the way they were filmed. They don’t make them like they used to!
Based on a play by Reginald Rose in 1954, it was adapted into a stage play in 1955 before the Sidney Lumet film was released in cinemas in 1957. But for two short scenes that open and close the action, this is a film that takes place on a hot day in the jury room of a courthouse as 12 men deliberate on whether or not to convict an 18-year-old ethnic boy of killing his own father. To start with 11 of the 12 men vote guilty within a matter of minutes once inside the designated room, one man – Henry Fonda – urges them to take the time to discuss the issue in the face of some shaky evidence, overlooked and potentially unreliable witnesses. As discussions move on from one juror to another, the guilty verdicts start changing into not guilty verdicts due to the amount of doubt that creeps into the minds of the jury. Some of the other jury members are very stubborn and blighted by prejudice and vendetta. At the time, in the 50’s this was a common factor in a lot of court cases.
Halfway through the film the secret balloted verdict goes from once 11-1 in favour of a guilty verdict to 6-6, split decision. So, with every new opinion and re-run of the evidence the stubborn members start to see the light and start to understand that this kid, could actually be innocent of this crime!
Throughout the film you can see the different types of characters, varying from an anxious baseball fan who is itching to utilise his two Yankee tickets that night to the schoolroom bully who tries to force his opinion on the others. Henry Fonda is the star of the show, in more ways than one. Peak of his career in Hollywood and also the main character looking to apply common sense and empathy to the situation.
I won’t give away how it ends, but one thing I will say is if you like gripping court room dramas, mixed with compelling directing and perfect acting and under 2 hours, this film is a 5-star serving. It’s number 5 on IMDb with a rating of 8.9 from over half a million reviews.
by Jon Hale