Lumet's debut, Rose's adaptation of his television play: verbose, stage-bound, predictable and acted to within an inch of its life. This classic courtroom drama begins in the final hours of a trial for murder in a hot, muggy New York City courtroom. The tired trial judge gives 12 weary
jurors their instructions, exhorting them to adhere to the basic rule that weights the scales of justice: the defendant must be seen to be innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The jurors shuffle slowly to their chamber and consider the case of a teenage Puerto Rican boy accused
of knifing his father to death. Expecting a rapid verdict in what appears a conclusive case, the jury foreman invites an immediate vote. When the ballots are tallied, 11 prove to be for conviction. Fonda is the lone holdout. They deliberate, and the character of each emerges.
Though the film now appears anachronistic, MEN was a landmark film in its day, one which brought a new style to cinema. The teleplay-turned-movie made use of a single static set--an actual New York City jury room--and had a total of 365 separate takes, nearly all of them from different angles. The
result was cinema heresy that worked. Director Lumet, making his film debut (though he was accomplished in stage and television productions), was teaching lessons to the old-timers. With cameraman Kaufman (the brother of famed Soviet director Dziga Vertov), Lumet carefully plotted and sketched
every visual nuance. As had been his habit with theatrical productions, he also rehearsed his cast for a full two weeks before the actual 20-day shoot. The resulting real-time drama made film history.
This was Fonda's one experience as a movie producer. He had admired the television play authored by co-producer Rose and had attempted to get Hollywood's established studios interested in it, with little success. Released as a conventional booking in large theaters, the film failed to make a
profit, and Fonda never received his deferred salary. Despite his financial loss, Fonda remembered it fondly as one of his three best efforts (along with THE GRAPES OF WRATH and THE OX-BOW INCIDENT). Fonda is fine in the picture, and the others in the cast (whom he hand-picked) were the leading
stage and TV actors of Gotham, whose wonderful work was rewarded in many cases by eventual cinematic stardom. The film is an unsettling one in many ways, as much an indictment as an affirmation of America's jury system. One wonders what might have happened had Fonda's voice-of-reason character not
been present. The technique of the film has been repeated since, but this is the one that set the precedent.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Lumet's debut, Rose's adaptation of his television play: verbose, stage-bound, predictable and acted to within an inch of its life. This classic courtroom drama begins in the final hours of a trial for murder in a hot, muggy New York City courtroom. The ti… (more)