Twelve Angry Men

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Twelve Angry Men is a play written by Reginald Rose about the deliberations of a jury in a murder trial. It was originally written for television, and first broadcast in 1954. Rose then adapted his script into a play. A second adaptation was filmed in 1957, starring Henry Fonda, and a third version was filmed in 1997 with Jack Lemmon playing Henry Fonda's role. The 1957 film version, which was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Sidney Lumet) and Best Adapted Screenplay, is the most well-known version of the story.

Plot

A young man from a slum has been charged with the fatal stabbing of his father. The movie opens with the judge reminding the jurors that, since this is a capital crime, their verdict must be unanimous. The jurors retire to begin their deliberations in a hot, airless room, and at first it appears as though the evidence of the defendant's guilt is incontestable.

The evidence against the defendant is as follows:

  • The defendant and his father had been arguing earlier in the evening.
  • An old man, lying in bed in the flat downstairs, heard somebody shout "I'm gonna kill you!", and a moment later heard a body hit the floor. He ran to his door and opened it just in time to see the defendant leaving the building.
  • A woman across the street, unable to sleep, claimed to have seen the stabbing through the windows of a passing L-train and identified the defendant as the assailant.
  • The father was stabbed with a knife identical to one which the defendant had recently bought and shown to his friends. The owner of the knife shop claimed it was a very rare design and that he had none others like it.
  • The defendant's alibi was that he had been at a movie theatre when the murder took place. But, upon his arrest, he had been unable to name the movies he had seen or any of the actors / actresses in them.

A preliminary vote by secret ballot gives a result of eleven "guilty" votes and one "not guilty". Juror no. 8 (the men are not named), who voted not guilty, explains that he has no more reason than the other men to believe that the defendant is innocent. However, because of the defendant's age and the fact that his life depends on their decision, Juror 8 believes that they ought to discuss the facts of the case more thoroughly before deciding.

One by one, the pieces of evidence are shown to be faulty, and the jurors gradually change their minds.

  • If the murder had taken place while an L-train was passing, the old man would not have heard the sound of a shout from upstairs. The jurors, who had observed his slow, shuffling gait during the trial, re-enact his journey from his bed to his front door, and find that he could not have walked quickly enough to see the killer running out of the building. They conclude that the old man wanted some attention, and for people to listen to him.
  • The woman across the street wore glasses, and would not have been wearing them while in bed. She could not have seen the killing clearly.
  • The owner of the knife shop had been lying about the knife's rarity. Juror no. 8 produces an identical knife, which he had bought from the same shop.
  • The defendant's forgetfulness is attributed to shock and "emotional stress".

Interestingly enough, the audience never finds out whether the defendant is guilty; this further stresses "innocence until proven guilty".[1]

The movie illustrates three particulars of the United States legal process:

  1. the defendant does not have to demonstrate his innocence. He is innocent until proven guilty.
  2. the verdict must be unanimous, since unanimity guards against a miscarriage of justice.
  3. the defendant can be convicted only in the absence of reasonable doubt on the part of the jury. [1]

References

  1. 'Most courtroom movies feel it necessary to end with a clear-cut verdict. But "12 Angry Men" never states whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. It is about whether the jury has a reasonable doubt about his guilt.' (Roger Ebert)

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