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12 Angry Men
Release Date(s)1957 (November 22, 2011)
Studio(s)United Artists (Criterion - Spine #591)
The most recent manner in which I experienced 12 Angry Men was as a live stage play in Toronto starring Richard Thomas as the dissenting member of a jury of white men seemingly intent on convicting a Puerto Rican teenager charged with murdering his father.
It was, however, as a teleplay by Reginald Rose broadcast on CBS's Studio One in September of 1954 that 12 Angry Men first made its appearance on the North American scene. In 1957, it became a film by virtue of a joint production by Henry Fonda's and Reginald Rose's production companies - Orion/Nova. Distributed by United Artists, it was the first feature film directed by Sidney Lumet, in some ways signaling a career that would frequently demonstrate a deep commitment to illuminating social inequality and pitting lone individuals against the herd. Filmed in black and white and depicting the confines of a small stifling jury room, 12 Angry Men is an electrifying profile of men under pressure and the many different ways they respond. Henry Fonda is closely associated with the film, for his dissenting juror is the drama's central character, and Fonda imbues him with a degree of moral courage that anyone who has seen the film would like to think they could demonstrate in kind. As time has proven, the rest of the cast is almost equally solid - including now revered New York stage and TV characters actors such as E.G. Marshall, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, and Jack Klugman. If that's not enough, Edward Binns, Robert Webber, and Martin Balsam are also along for the ride. If you've never experienced 12 Angry Men, you're in for a treat indeed. No guns are fired, no one is killed on screen, and the world outside virtually ceases to exist. Yet the film continually mesmerizes right from reel one and conveys a feeling of the real world that only a few of its 1950s' contemporaries were managing. While previously available on DVD from MGM, it is now gloriously alive on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The 1.66:1 Blu-ray transfer is very crisp throughout with a nice level of grain well maintained. Image detail is also notably good in the film's numerous close-ups and overall image cleanliness is commendable. There is no indication of untoward digital manipulation. The dialogue-driven film is well delivered on its LPCM mono track. I detected an occasional minor instance of hiss, but nothing distracting at all. English SDH subtitling is provided. Of major interest among the disc's supplements is an HD presentation of the original 1954 TV presentation of 12 Angry Men as directed by Franklin Schaffner. Also included are a teleplay directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Reginald Rose - Tragedy in a Temporary Town (1956); a production history of 12 Angry Men; a booklet featuring an essay by writer and law professor Thane Rosenbaum; archival interviews with Sidney Lumet; new interviews about the director, writer, and cinematographer; and the original theatrical trailer. Very highly recommended.