One of the all-time great films gets a terrific 4K UHD makeover from Kino. A brand new HDR/Dolby Vision master struck from a 4K scan of the original camera negative ratchets up the intensity that oozes from every frame of 12 Angry Men, director Sidney Lumet's riveting chronicle of a jury's heated deliberations. Potent themes, a powerful script, and pyrotechnic performances propel this classic movie that never gets old, no matter how many times we see it. Excellent audio and a separate disc of supplements enhance the appeal of this essential release. Must Own.
"Oh boy, oh boy, there's always one."
Back in the mid-1950s when television began to captivate the American public and erode box office returns, movie studios scrambled to find ways to entice audiences back into theaters. "Bigger is better" was the prevailing philosophy and it sparked the production of sprawling epics and splashy musicals that could give viewers a brand of entertainment TV couldn't. So it was quite a risky venture for United Artists to go (way) against the grain and bank on a small yet intense drama that took place not just in a single location, but almost entirely in a single room!
12 Angry Men, like the Oscar-winning Marty before it, was first an acclaimed one-hour television program, but while it was relatively easy to "open up" Marty for the screen, the premise of 12 Angry Men, which chronicles the heated deliberations of a fractured jury on a capital murder case, required it to remain anchored in the confines of a stark, utilitarian meeting room. Lucky for us, Sidney Lumet, directing his first feature film, sank his teeth into the project, crafting a riveting atmosphere of entrapment, claustrophobia, and moral conflict, and with a first-rate cast headlined by Henry Fonda and taut script by Reginald Rose, 12 Angry Men wowed the critics. The public, however, dismissed the film, but its reputation grew by leaps and bounds over the years. Today, it's a bona fide classic and shining example of how any situation can be thrillingly depicted when approached with creativity and a steadfast commitment.
12 Angry Men is a fascinating study of men under pressure who stubbornly cling to deep-seated prejudices and smug closed-mindedness, even as they hold a man's life in their hands. It's also an indictment of mob rule and a rallying cry to stand up against the establishment and express our views, however unpopular and derided they may be. It takes guts to set ourselves apart, question the status quo, and examine facts from a multitude of viewpoints before taking a stance and making a judgment, and 12 Angry Men champions such fortitude, integrity, and perseverance.
As an all-male jury retires to determine the fate of a Hispanic teen accused of killing his father, 11 of the 12 members, some of whom bring a lifetime's worth of preconceived notions to the table, stand convinced of the defendant's guilt. The lone holdout, Juror #8 (Fonda), doesn't necessarily disagree but believes the jury owes the accused a thorough examination of the evidence before handing down a death sentence. His "not guilty" vote halts the rush to judgment and his willingness to debate incites ridicule and disdain from his fellow jurors, who are eager to flee the stuffy confines of the courthouse, return to their daily lives, and revel in the freedoms they take for granted and enjoy.
Once the discussion commences, the hidden agendas and buried demons of many of the jurors rise to the surface and we see how outside forces IIke bigotry, background, and conceit influence decision-making and cloud their powers of deduction. The ensuing resentment and belligerence protract the examination of the case, which begins to buckle under scrutiny. Suddenly, what seemed like a slam-dunk guilty verdict becomes a quagmire, as reasonable doubt slowly permeates the panel.
Lumet was already an accomplished television director when Fonda, the film's co-producer, tapped him to helm 12 Angry Men, and his small screen experience stood him in good stead for his first big screen venture. Television forced Lumet to work in tight spaces with limited equipment and thus devise innovative ways to heighten both dramatic impact and visual interest, and he employs those tricks to terrific advantage here. His use of extreme close-ups and varied lenses to enhance the pressurized atmosphere and in-your-face bickering that characterizes the tale is intentionally jarring and unsettling. And as truth - about the case and their own biases and shortcomings - closes in on the jurors, so does the camera.
Ironically, these dozen disparate citizens who've been randomly thrown together to determine whether a man should be released from jail or sent to the electric chair are locked in their own unique prison and must come to a unanimous accord to be released. Lumet tosses the audience into this cage of rage, providing a rare perspective. It's a stunning debut and a harbinger of a stellar career that would include such socially-conscious classics as Fail-Safe, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network, to name but a few.
Fonda, along with James Stewart and Gary Cooper, specialized in portraying the common man often embroiled in extraordinary circumstances and his performance in 12 Angry Men is one of his best. Controlled yet passionate, with quiet courage and a forthright demeanor that's never self-righteous, Fonda disappears inside the role and seamlessly blends into the ensemble. Though all of us may not possess the gumption to step apart from the favored viewpoint and fight for our convictions, Fonda embodies the man we'd like to be, and if we can't exactly identify with him, then at the very least we admire his stand-up manner, thoughtful comments, and ability to calmly deal with adversity.
Credit Rose for his searing script, which earned an Oscar nomination, and credit the impeccable supporting cast - without which 12 Angry Men would have been a very different film - for its essential contributions. Only a couple of the actors were well-known at the time, but almost all went on to achieve greatness. Lee J. Cobb is a standout as Fonda's most intimidating and stubborn adversary, Ed Begley shines as a blustery closet bigot, and Martin Balsam as the beleaguered foreman, E.G. Marshall as a tightly wound businessman, Jack Warden as an apathetic blue-collar worker, Jack Klugman as a mild-mannered clerk, Robert Webber as a slick ad man, and John Fiedler (perhaps best known as the voice of Piglet in Disney's Winnie the Pooh movies) all contribute finely etched portraits and form a tight unit that carries this movie to massive heights.
12 Angry Men also received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Director and stands as one of the most iconic legal dramas in film history. The jury system may not be perfect (as several trials certainly proved that), but Lumet's blistering snapshot of one panel in action is a blueprint for how it should work. Anyone who watches this brilliant film can't help but come away with renewed respect for the process and the truth it's capable of unearthing, as well as a deep appreciation for fine writing, acting, and direction.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
12 Angry Men arrives on 4K UHD packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. A standard Blu-ray disc that contains all the special features - but not the film itself - is also included. For the first time, 12 Angry Men is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. (Previous home video versions, including Criterion's 2011 Blu-ray, used the 1.66:1 aspect ratio.) Video codec is 2160p/HEVC H.265 with Dolby Vision HDR and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
A brand new HDR/Dolby Vision master struck from a 4K scan of the original camera negative yields a glorious 2160p/HEVC H.265 transfer that significantly improves upon Criterion's 2011 Blu-ray. That 1080p transfer was struck from a fine grain master positive, and though it looks quite good, it pales when compared to the more organic rendering here. The 4K UHD image, which is presented for the first time in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, is richer, a bit bolder, and flaunts less grain, yet maintains its palpable film-like feel. The texture is still evident, but it's more deftly woven into the film's fabric. The enhanced clarity and contrast lend the picture a more dimensional appearance, while deeper blacks, more balanced whites, and perfectly graded grays heighten the story's immediacy, impact, and realism. The dazzling close-ups showcase the glistening sweat, greasy hair, pores, follicles, stubble, freckles, wrinkles, creases, jowls, and blemishes on all the men, the faint reflections on the windows are very sharp, costume weaves and patterns are vivid, fine details are easy to discern, and excellent shadow delineation provides essential contours. A few nicks and an errant thread dot the print, which is cleaner than the Criterion source. Once again, Kino has delivered an exceptional Dolby Vision transfer of a classic film, and once again an upgrade is mandatory.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track pumps out a surprisingly robust sound that helps immerse us in the film's claustrophobic atmosphere. Much like its Criterion LPCM counterpart, this track is free of any age-related hiss, pops, or crackle and cleanly renders the all-important dialogue. (Even Lee J. Cobb's bellowing resists distortion.) Subtleties like faint street noise, the whirring of a fan, and footsteps are distinct, and such sonic accents as a knife hitting a table, fist pounding, thunder, and a heavy downpour that shades a good part of the action are crisp. Though the minimalist music score by Kenyon Hopkins is only employed sporadically throughout the film, it flaunts a lovely depth of tone and fills the room with ease.
Good news and bad news here. The good news is Kino ports over all the extras from the 2008 MGM DVD and includes the 1997 TV remake of 12 Angry Men on a separate Blu-ray disc. The bad news is none of the supplements from the 2011 Criterion Blu-ray edition are part of this package, so most collectors will likely want to hang onto that disc.
NEW Audio Commentary by Gary Gerani - The film historian and screenwriter calls 12 Angry Men "one of the finest motion pictures ever made," and over the course of his commentary he compares and contrasts Lumet's movie with both the original television production and 1997 TV remake. He also examines the story's themes, looks at jury dynamics, analyzes Lumet's style, and provides background information on the cast. Gerani's easygoing delivery, expertise, and enthusiasm make this track well worth a listen.
Audio Commentary by Drew Casper - The noted film historian, who's also a professor at USC, recorded this track for the 2008 DVD. Casper's commentaries are like college seminars and this one is no exception. If you want to learn about film theory and technique and appreciate the power and influence of images, Casper is your man and he dissects 12 Angry Men like a surgeon, examining minute details and broad themes and delving into every nook and cranny. In addition, he chronicles the movie's production, analyzes the characters, and relates 12 Angry Men to other films. This track may be 15 years old, but like the movie it addresses, it's timeless.
12 Angry Men (1997) (HD, 117 minutes) - Reginald Rose updated his original script for this 1997 TV remake directed by William Friedkin that runs 21 minutes longer than the original film and features an equally impressive array of actors. Jack Lemmon takes over the Henry Fonda role, George C. Scott won an Emmy Award for his performance in Lee J. Cobb's part, and Hume Cronyn, Ossie Davis, Courtney B. Vance, Armin Mueller-Stahl, James Gandolfini, Tony Danza, Edward James Olmos, William Petersen, Dorian Harewood, and Mykelti Williamson portray the other jurors. Though the more diverse cast allows this version to more fully explore the racial themes that permeate the drama and the excellent performances rival those in the 1957 film, I prefer the original.
Featurette: "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: The Making of 12 Angry Men" (SD, 23 minutes) - Director Sidney Lumet, actors Jack Klugman, Richard Thomas, and George Wendt, and TCM host Robert Osborne, among others, discuss the film's genesis, production, themes, and legacy in this slick, informative, clip-filled 2007 featurette. Klugman also shares his fond memories of the other cast members and reverence for Fonda, while Lumet talks about Fonda's natural style and the "tension dynamic" that fuels the story.
Featurette: "Inside the Jury Room" (SD, 15 minutes) - In this absorbing 2007 piece, a team of legal experts, including attorneys Gloria Allred and Robert Shapiro, praise the jury system and call out its deficiencies, analyze jury selection, discuss the process of deliberation, and point out inaccuracies in the film.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - In addition to the movie's original preview, a brief home video trailer for the 1997 Showtime remake is also included on the disc.
I was one happy dude when I heard 12 Angry Men was coming to 4K UHD, and after viewing the exceptional Dolby Vision HDR transfer struck from the original camera negative I'm downright euphoric. Director Sidney Lumet's riveting film has never looked or sounded better, and a substantive extras package that includes the 1997 TV remake makes this release from Kino an essential addition to every cinephile's collection. Must Own.