The blog Digital Poetics recently began a new approach to discussing a film by focusing on screenshots from the ten, forty, and seventy minute marks in the film. Since I have been meaning to post a review of 12 Angry Men, Sidney Lumet’s first feature film (1957), for some time, I decided to let the constraints of the 10/40/70 process start what will eventually turn into a longer review.
12 Angry Men had already been a TV movie prior to Henry Fonda taking it on as producer and star. The original story and script by Reginald Rose was expanded upon by the same, and Lumet, a director with TV experience, was chosen to direct. To his own credit, Lumet said he was naive enough to not know what would be problematic about directing a film that takes place almost entirely in one small room. The tension he was able to elicit from the cast, almost all from a TV background as well, provided a memorable start to what has been a long and interesting career.
The story is about one man on a jury for a murder trial who has doubts, although his fellow jurors are all ready to find a guilty verdict and be done.
The Ten Minute Mark
It’s fitting that juror #8, played by Henry Fonda, is not in this frame. Although ten minutes have elapsed, nothing has really happened, other than the jurors filing into the room to begin their deliberations. They’re trying to get started and are fetching the old man (juror #9) from the restroom. Several jurors have chatted with each other but #8 remained aloof, nay, even standoffish, when approached by others. It’s as if he were trying not be a part of the group, as if he were better than them. Did I mention juror #8 is an architect?
The Forty Minute Mark
Now juror #8 is front and center and facing his chief nemesis, juror #3, played wonderfully by Lee Cobb. It is from his point of view that the camera begins pushing into juror #8 as he tries to persuade the others that the evidence presented in court might not be as sound as they think. The camera forces juror #8 into the corner (or perhaps into the women’s restroom). The jurors sitting next to him don’t want to look at him. He’s making this difficult, and he’s a bit passive-aggressive about it.
The Seventy Minute Mark
The rain has helped cool the room and the tensions down, as well as darkening the mood. And juror #8 begins moving in for the kill. He has convinced five others to go along with him at this point in the film and is now working on the ones who seem the most difficult to convince, including juror #4 shown here, played by E.G. Marshall. In addition to the rain pouring on juror #4 in the window behind him, the camera has also begun closing in on him, using juror #8’s arm and leg to help frame his capture. It’s hard to argue against brilliant cinematography. Give it up, jurors, this is #8’s film.
Those three frames of the film capture the essence of progression of the story well. Juror #8 is almost invisible at the beginning, becomes center stage, and then turns the table on the others.