12 Angry Men (1956)

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Released 14-Jul-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1956
Running Time 92:10
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Sidney Lumet
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring Henry Fonda
Lee J. Cobb
Ed Begley
E.G. Marshall
Jack Warden
Jack Klugman
Ed Binns
Joseph Sweeney
Martin Balsam
George Voskovec
John Fiedler
Robert Webber
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Kenyon Hopkins


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
German
German for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Swedish
Finnish
Norwegian
Danish
Smoking Yes, - lots.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Outside the realm of low budget films, it takes a certain level of confidence in a film maker to attempt a movie which is set in only one confined location. One famous example comes from Alfred Hitchcock whose Lifeboat (1944) was set in the small boat of the title. I can imagine that first time director Sidney Lumet must have been just a little bit nervous filming 12 Angry Men almost entirely within the confines of a cramped jury room, where the twelve men of the title deliberate over their verdict in a murder trial (Lumet would go on to make films such as Fail-Safe, Network and Serpico).

    The premise hardly sounds exciting nowadays, when our multiplexes tend to reverberate to the explosions and gunshots of the latest action movies, and dialogue driven character pieces are generally relegated to the local art house. But make no mistake, this is a riveting piece of cinema, as exciting today as it was when I first viewed it during a film festival revival in the early 1970s. My wife, a constant companion during these reviews, had not seen the film before and was glued in front of the screen for the entire 92 minutes; she declared the film one of the best she has seen in recent months.

    The film opens with the camera moving into an imposing looking public building and into a courtroom. We hear the judge in the murder trial giving his final instructions to the jury, who move out of the courtroom and into the jury room to begin their deliberations. After a lingering view of the scared (and very young) male defendant we move in to join them, and remain in the room until the final minute or so of screen time.

    The room is hot, and the only fan is not working. The jury starts to settle while jury member Henry Fonda looks thoughtfully out of the window. Most of the members seem keen to get their work over with quickly - it seems that this is pretty much an open and shut case. A first vote is taken, and there are 11 votes for 'guilty' and only one for 'not guilty' (Fonda). This elicits the disparaging comment that "There's always one!". When Fonda says that he would merely like to talk over a few points from the case the reply comes "What's there to talk about?".

    As it turns out there is a lot to talk about, with most of the jury trying to bully Fonda into accepting their point of view. After some discussion he agrees that he will go along with them if, after a secret ballot, there is no one else who has a few doubts in their mind. As we are only 30 minutes into the film at this point, I guess it isn't too much of a surprise that the secret ballot reveals one other vote of 'not guilty' so that that the tally is now 10-2. The rest of the film follows the growing tension in the room, and the conflict between the jurors as they try to reconcile their divergent views on what really happened in the case.

    While a bald account of the story hardly sounds exciting, the film is brilliantly conceived and unfolds on a number of levels. The first is as a mystery. The interplay between the jurors throws up a number of possible scenarios for the crime and the guilt or otherwise of the accused. On another level the film is a study of human character as revealed by the actions of the 12 men in dealing with their dilemma. Another, fairly obvious, aspect is a study of the failings of a system of justice which depends on imperfect human beings for its outcome - can it be anything but flawed?

    The director does an excellent job of building up the tension in the film, and also manages to deal effectively with some of the social issues (including racial bigotry) which arise during the heated discussions in the jury room. My only (VERY) minor reservation (and the reason I have given the plot four and a half stars instead of five) is that there is a slight tendency towards the theatrical, rather than the cinematic, in the presentation. The cast is terrific, with the central conflict between the characters played by Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb a highlight. Other excellent performances come from E. G. Marshall, Martin Balsam and a very young Jack Klugman (who may be more familiar playing Oscar in TV's The Odd Couple).

    The film must have been a labour of love for those concerned. Fonda was one of the Producers, the other was the author of the script, Reginald Rose. The term 'film classic' is often overused, but this is one of those films which may well deserve the label. At the very least it is a gripping piece of movie magic which every film fan should see at least once. It is rather a shame that MGM are again treating their back-catalogue so poorly - this film deserves the 'Special Edition' treatment and a few more extras than just the lonely trailer (and where is the 16x9 enhancement as well?). Even with the rather shabby presentation this is still a recommended purchase at the asking price, or a required rental at the minimum.

    NOTE: The year of production generally given for the film is 1957, although the copyright notice in the credits is dated 1956.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer is acceptable given the age of the film. It does not appear to have been restored but seems to have come from a source in reasonable condition.

    The aspect ratio of the transfer is 1.66:1. Unfortunately, it is not 16x9 enhanced. This is the original theatrical aspect ratio.

    The transfer is reasonably sharp, though it can occasionally appear a little soft around the edges (as at 62:00). It is a little on the dark side for my liking, though the level of detail is good (you can see the sweat build on the jury as tensions rise in the hot and cramped room). There is good shadow detail and no low level noise.

    The film is in black and white, with a nice level of grey tones in between those extremes. The film stock used seems to have been designed to have a high contrast, which adds a visual edge to proceedings which suits the tone of the film.

    The lack of 16x9 enhancement and the age of the film detracts a little from its presentation. There are frequent minor negative and positive artefacts, and the occasional presence of grain (as at 44:40). Reel change marks also intrude at times (17:46 and 52:15 amongst others) and there are one or two thin vertical black lines. However, I have seen a lot worse in films of this era, and the level of damage is low enough that it does not detract too much from the viewing experience.

    The subtitles need to be very good for a film of this type, where the nuance of each line is an important part of fully appreciating the film. The English for the Hearing Impaired titles leave out a key word now and again, and fail to identify the speaker of some lines, which is a significant flaw. You have another 11 subtitle choices available if required.

    I did not notice the layer change during the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    For a dialogue driven piece of cinema, the original mono soundtrack available here does the job.

    There are 5 audio tracks available on this disc. I listened to the English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track (encoded at a bitrate of 224 Kb/s) and segments of the German track. You can also choose to listen to the film in French, Italian or Spanish. The German dub was quite good, with the dialogue closely following the actions of the actors, but suffered from the main character's voice lacking the gentle persuasiveness of Fonda's wonderful performance.

    Dialogue is clear for most of the film, though at times early on some of it is a little indistinct. There is often a lot of talking to follow, with multiple speakers talking at the one time. At these times I was able to follow the dialogue easily, so well done to the sound recordist. Audio sync is good throughout.

    The music is secondary to the dialogue here, and is rarely heard. When we do hear it, my feeling is that it is a little overly melodramatic. The overall volume level is fine relative to the rest of the audio track.

    There is no surround activity and the subwoofer is not used. The dialogue and effects are clear. Switching to ProLogic mode did nothing to change the character of the sound (except to make it a little louder). While speech and gesture dominate proceedings, the sound of rain falling at 62:20 is a nice diversion for the audience (and for the jury).

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    I said it before, I'll say it again. Just a trailer? Shame!!

Menu

    The menu is static with no audio. From it you can Play the feature, go to Scene Selections (there are 16 of those), go to Language Options or play the Original Theatrical Trailer.

Original Theatrical Trailer

    This runs for 2:13 at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and displays a bit more damage than the main feature. It is not too bad, though the voice-over is rather poor.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 2 and Region 4 versions of this DVD appear identical. The Region 1 version has fewer languages (it has French and English only) but one review site suggested that the picture is sharper, and has less grain than the Region 2 (and possibly the Region 4?). I will leave the choice as to the preferred version open.

Summary

    This is an exciting piece of cinema which should please most viewers. The video and audio transfers are acceptable, though I am left with the feeling that they could have been a little better. Once again the lack of extras is verging on the criminal, but the price point is reasonable. You should at least rent this film, perhaps holding off a purchase to watch out for any future release which might treat the film better, as it deserves.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Robert Davison (read my bio)
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K350, using Component output
DisplaySONY VPL-HS10 LCD projector, ABI 280cm 16x9 screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderKenwood. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationKenwood
SpeakersKenwood

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