Monday, January 11, 2010

#17 12 Angry Men: This yakkety-yak and back-and-forth, it's gettin' us nowhere.

1957. dir. Sidney Lumet, starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Martin Balsam.

Seen it before? Yes.

My 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Schmidt, was THE legendary strict teacher. Before we even got to junior high, we heard whispered tales about the piles of homework she assigned, the brutal punishments doled out to kids who misbehaved, etc. When we finally got to junior high, she announced she was retiring, and we would be her last class. This was actually a little disappointing, because she went easy on us. She was nice to us. Didn't give us a whole lot of homework, certainly not as much as Mrs. Messina, the 6th grade teacher. And we watched a lot of movies. This was one of them.

Watching movies in school was the best. There was no better feeling than seeing the TV/VCR setup in the classroom when you walked in. And we watched this one TWICE. Here was the assignment: Watch the movie once. Then, we assign you a juror number, and watch it again, but this time pay special attention to your juror. Now write an essay from that juror's POV. Piece of cake if you got #8 (Henry Fonda) or #3 (Lee J. Cobb)... damn near impossible if you got #2 (the guy who did the voice of Piglet) of #6 (some guy, had hardly any lines.) I forget who I got, I think it was #11 (the immigrant guy.)

Anyway. This movie was adapted from a stage play, and it shows; virtually the entire movie happens inside a sealed jury room, as the 12 titular angry men* discuss the facts of a capital murder case. At first the vote is 11-1 in favor of execution, with #8 as the lone holdout. As it turns out, much of the evidence is not as solid as it first appeared. There's quite a bit of screaming and yelling among the jurors, as several of them seem to be taking the case personally for various reasons. There's an undercurrent of class and prejudice to many of the arguments (the kid is from the slums... as is one of the jurors).

It's pretty well acted; the jurors have distinct personalities, and it makes you think about which one you identify with. Personally I liked #1 (Martin Balsam), who just wanted everybody to calm down and talk like adults. I guess as an 8th grader I was more impressed with the writing than I am now; it's kind of melodramatic in spots -- looking at your big scene here, #10 (Ed Begley) -- but it's definitely worth seeing anyway.

*Yes. 12 Angry MEN. This movie, like Reservoir Dogs before it, fails the Bechdel Test with flying colors by not including a single woman with a speaking part. Won't be the last either; I don't think Shawshank Redemption or The Great Escape have any women either. What's weird here is that there's no real reason for ALL of the jurors to be men. Some of them could easily have been women. In fact, they staged it as such in our high school. Ah well, I guess Hollywood is just sexist that way.

Position on the list: 7
Another fantastic waste of time from 8th grade: This one project where we had to create an island, complete with animals and a language. Good night, Mrs. Schmidt, wherever you are.