Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose is a play that recounts the deliberation of a jury in the murder trial. The jury is tasked to determine the future of an 18-year-old boy who is accused of killing his own father. At first, the case seems pretty obvious, but as the details of the case are discussed we discover that everything is not as open-and-shut as it seemed. The jury learns that biases and prior experiences play a role, unwittingly at times, in how facts are perceived and how events are interpreted. Tempers flare as the innocence and guilt of the defendant is discussed and a unanimous verdict must be found.

Reginald Rose originally wrote the story as a teleplay for a CBS show called Studio One in 1954. In 1957, it was turned into a film in which Henry Fonda produced and starred as the main protagonist. Other notable cast members are Lee J. Cobb as the main antagonist. Jack Klugman, who went on to star in The Odd Couple, was the sober jurist who grew up in a slum just like the defendant. Martin Balsalm, the foreman, played the unfortunate detective in Hitchcock’s Psycho. In doing research, I learned that while I didn’t recognize John Fielder, juror #2, in too many movies, his voice may seem familiar because he has voiced the character of Piglet for many years. Jack Warden, sports loving juror #7, played the sweet grandpa in the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy, While You Were Sleeping (I definitely loved that movie in middle school). Needless to say, the excellent cast helped to add depth to the rich script.

The recording that I listened to was a recorded performance of the play. It was a different experience for me because there was actually a different voice for each character and there was an audience that would laugh, respond and clap. I was impressed that I recognized some of the voices. The first voice I picked out was Richard King who was in Spin City and Mad About You. I also recognized, among others, Hector Elizondo who generally plays smaller parts such as the security guard in The Princess Diary Movies.

Listening to the play as an audiobook was definitely different from what I was used to, but very enjoyable.   I would argue that because the original play was written with the idea that it would be viewed on television that the story is already suited well for the silver screen. The idea is that the 96 minutes required to watch the film is actually the length that it took the 12 jurors to come up with a verdict. Nothing was dropped from the play to make the length and content more appropriate for the movie. And, so the feeling that I got from the listening to the play was very similar to the feel that I got from watching the movie.

The movie is famously known for its camera angles. At the start of the movie, a wide camera angle is used and as the story progresses the camera comes in closer and closer to the point that the audience should be able to share in the feeling of claustrophobia. For me, I felt like I could have been a thirteenth juror and that the emotions and atmosphere the twelve jurors experienced were shared with the audience. I think that this aspect of the story and of the movie is what makes it so great.

12 Angry Men was remade and slightly modernized in 1997. Since both the 1957 version and the 1997 version are available on Netflix and Amazon Prime respectively, I watched both movies consecutively. Unlike the original movie, the more recent production had a more ethically diverse group. In spite of this fact, the script was altered very little from the original. To me, this proves that prejudice and, conversely, compassion is a timeless quality that we all encounter no matter what decade we are living in. The new movie is definitely not as excellent as the original movie, but it was surprisingly better than I thought it would be.

Because I was familiar with and enjoyed watching the film, I figured that I would enjoy the story. I guess I would say that because the movie was so similar to the movie that I was kind of bored by how similar it was. I did like the format of listening to each character performed by a different actor. I would recommend this audiobook, which is under $5 at audible.com, to those whom I know enjoy legal dramas and to those who enjoyed the film.

Twelve Angry Men Purchase Links: Audible.com Audiobook, Free Google Doc of the Play

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