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12 Angry Men (1957)

Big box office does not make a classic. Only time can do that. Although this adaptation of Reginald Rose’s pioneering TV drama barely broke even on its initial release, its critical reputation has grown over the years thanks to an intelligent script by Rose and a dozen indelible performances under the guidance of Sidney Lumet, making his feature directing debut.

After closing arguments in the case of an abused, lower-income teen accused of killing his father, the jurors assemble to determine their verdict. Most are in a hurry to convict the kid and get on with their lives, but one hold-out (Henry Fonda) questions whether the prosecution made its case. As the hours drag on, the often-heated deliberations reveal as much about the mostly unnamed jurors’ personal agendas as they do about the case at hand.

One of the most impressive low-budget films ever made, 12 Angry Men was shot in just 17 days in New York City. Lumet kept the schedule tight by meticulously rehearsing his cast and planning out each of the film’s 365 takes with cinematographer Boris Kaufman. It helped that Lumet and Fonda—with his first and only credit as a movie producer—filled the cast with stage-trained actors, including Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, and Ed Begley. Though the film was a box-office disappointment, it earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture (for Fonda and Rose), Director, and Adapted Screenplay, along with top prizes from the Berlin Film Festival and the Writers Guild.

d. Sidney Lumet, 96 minutes, DCP

Courtesy of MGM and Park Circus LLC