12 Angry Men 4K

by Glenn Erickson Apr 25, 2023

The Sidney Lumet classic graduates to the 4K bracket, with a new transfer. Pictures like this taught a generation of American kids that our system of justice was alive and vital — even if Reginald Rose’s tense drama suggests that twelve inconvenienced jurors can also behave like a Lynch Mob. Star Henry Fonda continued his career streak playing men of high moral principle. The drama hasn’t weakened and the direction is flawless — Sidney Lumet was very proud of this, his feature debut. Also starring Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman & Ed Begley. One of the extras is William Friedkin’s 1997 remake with Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott.

12 Angry Men 4K
4K Ultra HD
KL Studio Classics
1957 / B&W / 1:85 widescreen / 96 min. / Street Date , 2023 / available through Kino Lorber / 39.95 before discount
Starring: Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, Robert Webber.
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Art Director: Robert Markell
Film Editor: Carl Lerner
Script Supervisor: Faith Hubley
Original Music: Kenyon Hopkins
Written by Reginald Rose from his teleplay Twelve Angry Men.
Produced by Henry Fonda, Reginald Rose
Directed by
Sidney Lumet

Some major motion pictures of the 1950s and early 1960s were adaptations of ‘Golden Age’ TV show teleplays, most famously Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty. TV writer Reginald Rose’s reputation was made with his live broadcast of Twelve Angry Men, directed by Franklin Schaffner. The tense tale of heated deliberations in a jury room was perfectly scaled to the early TV format. Rose was inspired by his own jury experience to write a strong liberal statement about the responsibility of citizenship and the true meaning of phrases like “innocent until proven guilty” and “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The feature adaptation 12 Angry Men marked the beginning of an important film career in director Sidney Lumet. It also represents the birth of semi-independent New York art filmmaking, America’s most successful answer to the European art film. Actor Henry Fonda recognized Reginald Rose’s play as a perfect star vehicle, a social problem story that ends on a note of hope and affirmation. The system can work if normal citizens do their job.

Sold to United Artists on Fonda’s name and the mini-trend of TV dramas being up-scaled for the big screen (like Rod Serling’s Patterns, also fron UA), 12 Angry Men was filmed on a small budget that precluded the hiring of a name director. This frugality gave the ambitious, hard-working TV veteran Sidney Lumet his big chance. Lumet applied himself to the daunting task of making a full-length feature restricted to twelve men sitting and standing around a table.

The story almost plays out in real time. Sent to the jury room to deliberate on the fate of a boy (John Savoca) accused of killing his father with a knife, eleven of twelve jurors arrive at a guilty verdict on their first vote. The holdout, juror #8 (Henry Fonda) asks that they discuss the case first. Over the course of the afternoon and early evening Juror 8 raises doubts as to the veracity of the witnesses’ stories. He reaches some of his fellow jurors, but has a tough time with Jurors #3 and #10 (Lee J. Cobb & Ed Begley). As it turns out, both men are acting on strong prejudices having no relation to the merit of the defendant’s case.

How does one eliven a movie set in such a claustrophobic situation?  Alfred Hitchcock shot an entire feature in the confines of a drifting Lifeboat, but it can be argued that Lumet’s job is more difficult. Unlike the open sea, there’s nothing inherently interesting about a featureless jury-room, even if a third-act rainstorm breaks the monotony. Lumet takes the time to establish each man’s personality. He moves his camera only when his characters move. As pointed out by later critics, he organizes his shots so that the angles become tighter and the cuts more frequent as the room temperature, and the juror’s tempers, rise. By staying fairly loose and neutral at the beginning, he allows us to compare the dozen jurors. We can see for ourselves which is passive and which is aggressive; which take the case to heart and which just want to be finished and go home.

Reginald Rose’s intention is not to condemn human nature in general, as in the Clark/Trotti/Wellman The Ox-Bow Incident, also with Henry Fonda.  Yet the specter of Lynch Mob Expedience is always present. Most of the jurors are quite willing to go along with the perceived majority opinion without really thinking about the case. Only when challenged to actually apply themselves to their appointed task do the sensitive thinkers advance their personal opinions. The defendant is very lucky to have such an ethical fellow as Juror 8 on the jury bench.

Liberal Moralizing — the Good Kind.

An essential dramatic skill is the creation of characters that speak with a variety of voices, not just the author’s. Rose orchestrates the jurors’ attitudes and temperaments, using a sort of ‘business as usual’ approach. Each man acts ‘normally,’ trying not to project their emotions. Most of the time they look bored or inconvenienced. This allows Rose a strong dramatic contrast, as each juror begins to engage in the deliberations. One of the obstinate ‘hanging jurors’ turns out to be motivated by ethnic prejudice. The other is a knot of unexpressed anger over his relationship with his own son, which he’s quite happy to project on the young defendant. The tradition of ‘fifties New York live TV drama was founded on those twin concerns: pressing social issues and Freudian psychology.

Two of jurors are conservative bigots, yet 12 Angry Men succeeds in rallying audiences behind its Good Citizen moral premise. It’s an ideal discussion-starter, that’s for sure. When renting films back in college, a booker at a 16mm exchange told me that two movies that played well in prisons were Lumet’s 12 Angry Men and Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country. Both present a nuanced argument about Doing The Right Thing.

Interestingly, the movie introduces a couple of problems that the original teleplay did not. In the first TV play, Juror #8 was played by Bob Cummings, an actor who carries little or no ‘social conscience’ baggage. Casting Henry Fonda as Juror #8 naturally lessens any fear we might have that right may not prevail. Never mind that Fonda’s heroes in socially conscious Hollywood classics were often ineffectual losers or inspirational martyrs: Eddie Taylor in You Only Live Once, Marco in Blockade, Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, Gil Carter in The Ox-Bow Incident. Juror 8 is calm and self-possessed when opposing his eleven discontented peers. Integrity surrounds him like an aura. It’s Henry Fonda, for crying out loud. We know darn well who will prevail.

Secondly, in the teleplay we never saw the accused. Lumet’s movie instead begins with a big close-up of the sad-looking (Puerto Rican?) boy in the first scene. He is not a stereotypical kill-crazy juvenile delinquent. Some of the jurors therefore come off as insensitive from the very beginning. Only #8 takes personal responsibility for his role in possibly sending this helpless-looking kid to the execution chamber.

There is no surprise when Juror 10 suddenly leaps up and states his prejudice against ‘those people.’ I have to think that 12 Angry Men would work better if we had no idea what kind of fellow the accused was, as in the teleplay. Each of us would be inventing his own image of the defendant in our mind.

The film gives the audience a bracing morale boost, with the warning that jury duty is a responsibility that requires us to be better citizens . . . I am happy to report that the Juries I’ve sat on contained no resentful ogres using the defendant as a punching bag for a personal problem.

In 1957 the film’s cast consisted mostly of unfamiliar names. E.G. Marshall had been in a number of pictures and Ed Begley and Lee J. Cobb were well-known character actors. Most of the others were familiar mostly to viewers of live TV (Jack Klugman, George Voskovec, Joseph Sweeney) or crime dramas (Edward Binns). By the 1970s they were all old friends, even if we hadn’t memorized their names — a notable victim of Norman Bates (Martin Balsam), a funny card player from The Odd Couple (John Fiedler), a budding tough guy (Robert Webber). With its excellent performances and Sidney Lumet’s dynamic direction, 12 Angry Men is indeed a dramatic stand-out.



The KL Studio Classics 4K Ultra HD of 12 Angry Men kicks this ‘fifties classic up to the newest and most film-like video format. The new 4K scan differs from the earlier Criterion Blu-ray in that the format is the wider Aspect Ratio of 1:85, when Criterion’s was 1:66. We wouldn’t argue which is correct. Both frame handsomely.

No Blu-ray copy of the feature.

Kino is careful to say that its second Blu-ray disc contains extras, not an HD copy of the feature encoding. The potentially confusing thing is that one Blu-ray extra is a 12 Angry Men feature . . . William Friedkin’s 1997 color remake, adapted again by Reginald Rose. I helped promote it at MGM/UA Home Video; it plays well enough yet can’t hold a candle to the original. Not only do some of the liberal+ attitudes still seem anchored in the 1950s, leading Juror Jack Lemmon plays everything in his super-serious ‘important’ mode. The race element that comes in concerns a bigot who is not white.

Friedkin goes for individual impact over a sense of communal tension — George C. Scott just plays everything his way, and that’s that. The democratization the jury with more of a racial mix is interesting, but does not add to the drama. It is a stellar cast, however: Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Dorian Harewood, James Gandolfini, Tony Danza, Hume Cronyn, Mykelti Williamson, Edward James Olmos, William Petersen.

Friedkin doesn’t isolate his jurors — we not only see the accused, we get a good look at the courtroom guard and the judge, Mary McDonnell. Today, the jurors would surely be mixed male and female, and at least someone who checks the ‘other’ box. That’s neither good nor bad, but the jury room would likely contain more concerns than the guilt and innocence of the defendant.


The 4K disc carries the two commentaries, an older track by Drew Casper and a newer one by screenwriter Gary Gerani. The Blu-ray disc has two lengthy featurettes created in 2007 by the company New Wave. The first is a lively making-of item with input from the original actor and director, Jack Klugman and Sidney Lumet, plus Richard Thomas, George Wendt, Patricia King Hanson, the late TCM host Robert Osborne, etc. The second featurette gathers some noted legal experts to expound on the jury trial system as one of our most democratic institutions: Gloria Allred, Robert Shapiro, Michael Asimow, Tom Morwetz and Thomas Nicholson. No other credits are given, which is too bad.

The trailer included is quite a surprise — it’s in good quality and is also TEXTED — back in the 1990s we only had textless copies. A trailer for the ’97 remake is present as well.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

12 Angry Men
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Audio commentary by Gary Gerani
Audio commentary by Drew Casper
12 Angry Men, the 1997 feature directed by William Friedkin
Making of featurette Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Featurette Inside the Jury Room
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
April 23, 2023

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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