DVDs & Blu-rays for the Cinephile: 12 Angry Men and a Thanksgiving Day Special
12 Angry Men stars Henry Fonda, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden and Jack Klugman; Sidney Lumet directs.
The Setup: Sidney Lumet made his directorial debut in 1957 with 12 Angry Men. The film takes place almost entirely inside a hot, stuffy jury room. An 18-year-old Hispanic man is on trial for killing his father. After hearing days of testimony, the 12 men of the jury are tasked with determining his guilt or innocence. Guilty, he gets the chair. Innocent, he might be getting away with murder. A preliminary vote comes back, 11 guilty and 1 innocent.
The Execution: Lumet's claustrophobic setting is made even more so by his angular close-ups of the men, sweat on their faces and, for some, anger and hate in their eyes. Henry Fonda plays Juror #8, the one juror who thinks the kid is innocent. Juror #8 isn't willing to send the kid to the electric chair after just a few minutes of formalities and a rubber-stamp vote. The others, for various reasons, are happy to do just that. (Art Attack admits Fonda isn't one of our favorite actors; his aloof style and inscrutable face usually makes it hard for us to connect with him, but this is one film where that enigmatic quality worked to perfection.) Each new question Fonda's character brings up raises doubts in the others, until the vote is 1 guilty, 11 innocent.
The group's deliberation reveals the men's prejudices, a reflection of society at the time. In one of the film's most dramatic scenes, Ed Begley, Juror #10, tries to persuade the other jurors to vote guilty despite their questions. Not because he believes the kid on trial is guilty, but because all of "those people" are guilty.
"Look, you know how these people lie. It's born in them... They don't need any big reason to kill someone either...Human life doesn't mean as much to them as it does to us. They're lushing it up and fighting all the time... Listen to me, I know all about them. They're no good. There isn't a one of them that's any good." One by one, the other men leave the table, turning their back on him as he raves on. "These people are dangerous," he says. "There's a danger here." Ironically, the danger he has just so dramatically exposed is racism. (You can see that scene here.)
The Extras: This is the 50th Anniversary edition of 12 Angry Men so the extras are plentiful. There's Frank Schaffner's 1955 television version (a different cast, but still powerful); 12 Angry Men: From Television to the Big Screen, a video essay by film scholar Vance Kapley discussing the Schaffner and Lumet versions, archival interviews with Lumet; new interviews about Lumet and screenwriter Reginald Rose; the original theatrical trailer; and a booklet featuring an essay about the issues raised in the film.
And the Thanksgiving Day special is My Life as a Turkey, the story of naturalist Joe Hutto, who, as an experiment in the imprinting of young animals, hatched a batch of turkey eggs. Instead of their usual turkey mother, Hutto was the first thing they saw, and so they became attached to him. He spent the next year raising his turkey children, who, by all accounts, treated him as their mother. (Thank goodness turkeys don't nurse!)