BOURLIER Youri Université de Toulouse II – Le Mirail
Master 1- IPEAT
Twelve Angry Men
(Sidney Lumet, 1957)
AN0E141X - Études filmiques du monde anglophone
Twelve angry men (1957), directed by Sidney Lumet, is its first feature film after several years of television production. Although his politics are somewhat left-leaning and he often treats socially relevant themes in his films (for example Serpico (1973), Dog day afternoon (1975), Network (1976), Prince of the City (1981)) he doesn't want to and also can't make political movies in the first place. It was originally conceived and mounted as a live television drama in 1954. Its format and length (fifty minutes total running time) were dictated by anti-equated television technology that did not allow for pre-broadcast filming. At the urging of Henry Fonda, the television play was expanded by its author, Reginald Rose, into a film script that was then made into a movie and released in 1957. The film industry that produced Twelve Angry Men faced profound challenges. It had been under intense government scrutiny since at least 1949, when the so-called “Hollywood Ten” had been hauled before Congress and refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. The industry’s reaction to this and other inquiries was a shameful effort to expel all those with prior communist associations from the movie business. Writers, directors, actors, and others with significant past ties to “red” organizations were placed on a blacklist enforced through the efforts of the major studios. Those on the list were denied all Hollywood employment. By contrast, those who cooperated in the government witch hunt by providing the names of individuals who had been involved with the Communist Party or other left-wing organizations during the 1930s and 1940s were exempted from the purge. Some of the medium’s finest artists, including Academy Award-winning director Elia Kazan and gifted actor Lee J. Cobb (who co-stars in Twelve Angry Men as Juror #3), named names and fed the paranoia sweeping Cold War America. Not surprisingly, the 1950s film industry committed itself to an effort to produce patriotic fare. One of the favorite themes in that effort was the dramatization of ways in which the United States was different from and superior to the Soviet Union. Twelve Angry Men (1957) treats such typical Lumet concerns as the necessity for personal responsibility if democratic processes are to survive, and the tendency for man's illusions, guilt, and prejudices to endanger his legal systems. This movie seems to go beyond the well-intentioned “message picture” to make a remarkable cinematic statement on the nature of the limitations of the American jury system and of the American democratic process itself. Reginald Rose's screenplay (expanded considerably from his 1954 teleplay) treats the jury deliberation in a murder trial of an 18-year old minority youth accused of the premeditated killing of his father. We do not hear or see of the trial itself beyond the judge's direction to the jury. Nor we do witness the boy on trial except for one wordless shot of him near the beginning of the film. It takes place in one small room for almost all its length, a jury room in which sit twelve ordinary men, chosen at random by a human institution that entrusts them with a decision that determines the future of a human life. To all but one of the jurors (Juror #8 portrayed by Henry Fonda), the boy seems clearly guilty as charged on the abundance of circumstantial evidence, and their responsibility seems obvious, to put a guilty man into the electric chair, despite the youth and the impoverished environment from which he has come and which may well have contributed to his alleged crime. But Juror #8, a soft-spoken architect in his outside life, is not certain that the evidence is sufficiently clear to establish, beyond reasonable doubt, the boy's guilt. To the surprise of...
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