This review is dedicated to legendary director Sidney Lumet, who passed away on 9 April 2011, aged 86 – the end of a great career spanning 50 years of sublime cinema. This electrifying court-room drama was his first feature, and his work also included Picturenose favourites such as Equus (1997), The Verdict (1982) and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007).
It’s a sweltering summer’s day in a New York court room, in which an 18-year-old Spanish American is on trial for his life, for the murder of his father. If convicted, the youth faces the electric chair – the jury must now consider his guilt or innocence, having been made aware by the judge that, whichever way they decide, their verdict must be unanimous. The 12 ‘angry men’ in question retire to a locked room that has no air conditioning, and the preliminary vote is looking like it’s going to be an open-and-shut case, until one juror, number 8 (Henry Fonda) expresses his ‘reasonable doubt’ – and thus begins the finest court-room classic in cinema history.
If ever the term ‘ensemble cast’ was rightly applied to a movie, it was to this one – Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec and Robert Webber combine to create an utterly credible combination of disparate men, each with their own quirks, characteristics, strongly held beliefs and, most importantly, prejudices. Each, thanks to Reginald Rose’s riveting screenplay that manages the singular feat of removing the story far from its potentially ‘stagey’ setting, has their own turn in the spotlight, as Fonda’s liberal-conscience character slowly but surely turns the jury around.
Not really much more to be said, but my favourite ‘bit’? The switch-blade knife, and you know it if you’ve seen it. So long, Sidney – you shall be sorely missed.