12 Angry Men (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)1957 (April 18, 2023)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A-
12 Angry Men was released in 1957 by United Artists to very good acclaim but lackluster box office success. Since its release, it has been lauded as one of the best films of not just the era it was released in, but any era. It was the directorial debut of Sidney Lumet and stars a who’s who of acting talent, including Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, Martin Balsam, and several others. Originally written for TV by screenwriter Reginald Rose and brought to the big screen by Lumet and Fonda, it’s not technically a courtroom drama, but more about what goes on inside the jury room when a young man is on trial for murder and it’s up to twelve men to decide beyond a reasonable doubt whether or not he should be convicted.
Once deliberations are under way, the hot day and lack of air conditioning combined with the men of the jury arguing with each other about the guilt or innocence of the young man in question makes for some of the most captivating drama you could possibly ask for. Part of the film’s success is due to the cinematography of Boris Kaufman, who also lensed On the Waterfront and The Fugitive Kind, among other works. As the jury begins their work, there are a lot of wide angles and very few close-ups, and the pace is very lax. As the film moves on and things start to heat up, more and more close-ups are used, the editing becomes tighter, and the angles drop below the actors. In other words, you’re sucked in by the drama and the performances, but it’s the quality of the cinematography (as well as the editing of Carl Lerner) that keeps the film visually captivating, which is no small feat for a story set in one room for the majority of its running time.
12 Angry Men takes the simple notion that one man isn’t certain about another man’s innocence or guilt, and persuades his fellow jurors over the course of 95 minutes to his way of thinking, highlighting the flaws and strengths in each of them, including personal prejudices and not taking the process as seriously as they should. Sidney Lumet’s direction, Reginald Rose’s screenplay, Kaufman’s cinematography, and the performances from all involved draw one in like few films ever have, or will. Other versions have been made, including William Friedkin’s TV version from 1997 that also has its strong points, but the original film is not just effective, but a masterpiece.
12 Angry Men was shot by director of photography Boris Kaufman on 35 mm black-and-white film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings the film to Ultra HD with a new master supplied by MGM of a 4K scan of the original camera negative, graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are provided), and presented on a triple-layered UHD100 disc. Although it’s offered here in 1.85:1, previous releases (including Criterion's Blu-ray) presented the film in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with more picture information at the top and bottom of the frame. Those presentations can now be laid to rest as this is a virtually perfect picture that’s crisp and rife with fine detail, a steady sheen of refined grain, and a healthy bitrate. There’s an extremely minor amount of jitter and speckling, but it can hardly be noticed as the overall majority of the picture is stable and clean with amazing clarity. Excellent contrast is on display, with HDR grades that deepen shadow detail and thoroughly widen the spectrum for gradations. Whites and blacks are both solid, never blown out or crushed, with a variety of grays in between. It’s a gorgeous, film-like presentation that's as definitive as it gets, and does Boris Kaufman’s cinematography proud.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. The previous Criterion Blu-ray featured an uncompressed mono track, and Kino's 2.0 option maintains that solid, single channel experience. It should be no surprise that dialogue is the track's most important facet, which is perfectly clear and discernible, but the rest of the audio is well-balanced with fine support for sound effects and a minor amount of score by Kenyon Hopkins. It’s a clean track with no issues whatsoever, aiding the visuals expertly.
12 Angry Men on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a 1080p Blu-ray containing the 1997 TV movie version directed by William Friedkin. The insert and slipcover appear to use artwork that combines elements from the Italian theatrical release poster and the US & Australian theatrical daybills. Both discs offer the following extras:
DISC ONE: 12 ANGRY MEN – 1957 (UHD)
- Audio Commentary with Gary Gerani
- Audio Commentary with Drew Casper
DISC TWO: 12 ANGRY MEN – 1997 (BD)
- Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Making 12 Angry Men (SD – 23:04)
- Inside the Jury Room (SD – 15:28)
- 12 Angry Men (1957) Trailer (HD – 2:15)
- 12 Angry Men (1997) VHS Release Trailer (SD – :50)
- Witness for the Prosecution Trailer (SD – 3:08)
- Sergeant Ryker Trailer (HD – 2:05)
- The Ox-Bow Incident Trailer (SD – 2:15)
- Daisy Kenyon Trailer (SD – 2:45)
- The Group Trailer (SD – 3:48)
- A Stranger Among Us Trailer (SD – 1:57)
The new audio commentary with screenwriter and film historian Gary Gerani is quite good. He’s very upbeat and support of the film, delving into its content versus the realities of real jury deliberation, pointing out that it’s mostly authentic aside from a few very obvious inaccuracies. He also actively avoids discussing the filmographies of all involved, except to emphasize points and how their work pertains to the film at hand. He never goes quiet and always has something interesting to say about the production, making it an invaluable companion piece. In the other audio commentary with author and film historian Drew Casper, recorded in 2008 for the film’s DVD release, he primarily examines the artistic value of the frame, noting many aspects of the film’s composition and camera work. He also goes into more detail about the careers of the main players, highlighting their strong points. He goes quiet occasionally, but provides detail that works in tandem with the other commentary.
William Friedkin’s 1997 version of the film is included on the second disc, which was previously released by Kino on Blu-ray with nothing but the trailer as a supplement. They’ve amended that here, but with material that’s almost exclusively about the original film. Included are two DVD-era featurettes: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt and Inside the Jury Room. While the former focuses on the film, the latter delves into the real life US justice system and how accurate the film is at portraying it. Participants include director Sidney Lumet, actors Jack Klugman, George Wendt, Richard Thomas, film historian Robert Osborne, AFI executive editor Patricia King Hanson, theatre director Scott Ellis, attorneys Gloria Allred, Robert Shapiro, Court TV anchor Jami Floyd, professor of law Michael Asimov, trial consultant Michael Cobo, professor of law and ethics Tom Morawetz, and jury foreman from the Robert Blake trial Thomas Nicholson. Also included are trailers for both films, plus trailers for other titles available from Kino Lorber.
Missing in action from the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of the original film is a large collection of bonus material, including the 1954 TV version that aired on CBS with an introduction by Ron Simon; 12 Angry Men: From TV to the Big Screen, an interview with film scholar Vance Kepley; Lumet on Lumet, an interview with Sidney Lumet; Reflections on Sidney, an interview with screenwriter Walter Bernstein; On Reginald Rose, an interview with Ron Simon; Tragedy in a Temporary Town, a 1956 teleplay also written by Rose and directed by Lumet; On Boris Kaufman, an interview with cinematographer John Bailey; and the content found within the 20-page insert booklet, which includes an essay by writer and law professor Thane Rosenbaum. You’ll definitely want to hang onto that release for all of that content.
12 Angry Men might have been overlooked at the time of its release, but it’s lasted just as long as its contemporaries thanks to its quality, both in front of and behind the camera. Kino Lorber has upped the ante for the film on home video with a powerhouse presentation and great extras. As such, this release comes very highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons
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