If the boy only knew what headaches he was about to cause...
12 Angry Men is a 1954 teleplay by Reginald Rose (and perhaps more famously, a 1957 film directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda and a veritable All-Star Cast of character actors) that concerns a supposedly straightforward murder trial. An eyewitness, forensic evidence, and the accused himself all seem to clearly point to an adolescent boy murdering his father. In the deliberation room, most of the jurors push for a quick guilty verdict, but one juror holds out and insists that they examine the evidence thoroughly to make damn sure that the accused deserves his punishment: a mandatory death sentence.This work is best known as the film that popularized the Rogue Juror trope. Though it was not the first work to use it, it was the first to receive widespread critical acclaim. It's a classic of American cinema and recommended watching- especially because most of the other works on the Rogue Juror page reference it either directly or indirectly.According to the American Film Institute, it's the second best courtroom drama movie in history, after To Kill a Mockingbird's film adaptation. It received three Academy Award nominations, for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, but didn't win any of them. As of February 2014 it ranked eighth on the Internet Movie Database's top 250 films of all time, as voted on by users. It is by far the oldest movie to rank in the top twenty.In 1997, it was adapted yet again, this time as a Made-for-TV movie on Showtime, starring Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott. This adaptation race lifted several jurors, gender flipped the judge, and added more cussing. There is also a 2007 Russian Adaptation by Nikita Mikhalkov called simply 12.
Tropes used include:
An Aesop: Jury duty should never be taken lightly, and a man should never be convicted of a crime unless his guilt can be proven without a reasonable doubt.
Awesomeness by Analysis: Juror #9, who provides great insights on the eyewitnesses based on their appearances at court, and in turn gives fairly logical reasons for why their testimonies might not be truthful. Also leads to the Wham Line, below.
Berserk Button: #6 twice threatens violence (once explicitly, once by implication) over people showing disrespect to others.
Blind Without Them: One of the witnesses is thought to be this. This is what puts her evidence into question.
#7 is a decidely less subtle version, whose wisecracks contribute little to the proceedings except an added sense of tension in the room.
Empathic Environment: The rainstorm. And to a lesser extent, the fan, which finally starts up when the votes start to swing in favor of acquittal.
Establishing Character Moment: Juror #8 is first seen pondering at the window of the jury room before being called over to begin the decision. Notably, he isn't shown speaking and chattering excitedly like most of the jurors, hinting that the majority sentiment won't go through as easily as previously thought.
Even Evil Has Standards: Juror #3 may be vicious and want to see the defendant hang, but even he is unwilling to listen to #10's bigoted tirades.
Likewise Juror #10 doesn't look too impressed when #3 and #12 are playing a game rather than listening to the evidence.
Heel-Face Revolving Door: Juror #12 is the only one who ever changes his vote back to guilty. Juror #7 compares him to a tennis ball.
Heel Realization: When, in the middle of his furious insistence that the defendant is guilty, Juror #3 sees the picture of his estranged son and rips it to pieces, you can see in his face that he has just figured out what he was really doing.
Hollywood Law: Being convicted of first-degree murder does not result in an automatic death sentence. This isn't Society Marches On, though the length and likely outcome of the appeals process after a death sentence would likely be very long now (of course, New York state no longer has the death penalty, so he wouldn't face it anyway). The entire case, in real life, would have ended in a mistrial the moment it came to light that #8 had bought the exact same type of knife as used in the murder specifically to use in the deliberations (at least, if it came to light).
The judge (in the original film) didn't say it was legally an automatic death sentence, but that he would pass one if the jury delivered a guilty verdict. Of course, this may be an example itself, since it could unduly influence the jury (studies have shown that what sentence a defendant will get affects the verdict juries deliver). Nowadays the jurors decide what sentence the defendant should get too in capital cases after considering all the various aggravating vs. mitigating factors. Without such a recommendation for death, the judge can't sentence the defendant to it. Back when the play was written and the original film made, however, it was entirely the discretion of the judge, though the jury could ask for mercy if they wished. This arbitrariness was what led the US Supreme Court to strike down the existing capital punishment laws in 1972, to be replaced with the current standard. The judge in the 1997 remake echoes the original line, stating that she will not consider pleas for leniency should the jury find the defendant guilty. However, given that as stated above the jury decides what sentence the defendant should get, this is nonsensical and legally meaningless (though it could mislead jurors, which thus might get any death sentence they passed overturned).
While the jurors do make the correct decision on reasonable doubt, the way they reach that position (by #8 wandering around the defendant's neighborhood conducting his own investigation, and finding and buying a copy of the supposedly unique knife) is major juror misconduct. Even if they acquitted, he could still be charged should it come out. However, this is an aversion, as Juror #8 is shown to be fully aware that he has broke the law by doing this; the jury goes along with it because regardless of how it was obtained, it nonetheless appeared to disprove some of the prosecutions' evidence against the defendant. He gets away with it only because nobody tells the court what he did.
Juror #10: He's a common, ignorant slob. He don't even speak good English.
Juror #11:Doesn't even speak good English.
To make it even funnier, Juror #11 is an immigrant to the US from Europe.
I'LL KILL YOU!: Said by the defendant and later Juror #3, which gets thrown back in his face because he'd earlier claimed that people don't say something like that unless they mean it.
Immigrant Patriotism: Juror #11 takes a moment to gush about the jury trial system, and how it could only happen in a democracy like the United States. They never say where he came from, but the implication is that the country he was from is not a democracy. He also berates another juror for refusing to take the process seriously, and makes a point to make sure he is speaking English more properly than the bigoted natural-born #10.
Implacable Man: Juror #4 is a purely intellectual version, a highly intelligent man who looks at the case with pure logic to defend his guilty vote rather than the more passionate and personal views of the others. He's also the only one who doesn't take his jacket off or loosen his tie in the hot room, claiming to never sweat. Subverted when he starts sweating when questioned about a movie he saw four days earlier.
Jerkass: Juror #7. He doesn't care what the decision of the jury is. He's only concerned with catching a baseball game. At least the most vicious jurors voted guilty because they believed in it.
That said, when called out on this he does say that he doesn't believe the accused is guilty. He sounds rather more sincere about it in the 1997 version, though.
The Judge: Shown issuing instructions to the jury in the opening scene. Many stage productions (and the 1997 TV version) cast a woman in the role as a way of bringing at least some token gender diversity to the play without having to change its title.
Jury Duty: Well, yeah. The characters run the whole gamut of taking the duty very seriously (Juror #8's stance on this drives the whole plot, and Juror #11 later claims the responsibility to be one of the greatest things about American democracy) to being almost entirely dismissive of it (Juror #12 is more concerned with doodling and talking about his work than he is with the deliberations, and Juror #7 is mostly upset that he's missing a baseball game; both get called out for this). Notably, Jurors #3 and #10 are taking it seriously, but are too hung up on their own emotional baggage to approach it objectively.
Karma Houdini: All the Jurors in the end give the same verdict: "not guilty". If the kid is actually guilty, he gets away with murdering his father. If he is genuinely innocent, the real killer is still at large and unsuspected. Of course, within the realm of the movie the investigation would be considered ongoing, so it's more of a matter of them not covering the part where someone actually gets caught and convicted as guilty, since that's not the focus.
The Lancer: Juror #9 acts as this, to some extent, to Juror #8.
As does #4 to #3.
Lampshade Hanging: "You know, it's interesting he'd find a knife exactly like the one the boy bought!"
Large Ham: George C. Scott as Juror #3 in the 1997 version.
Minimalism: Apart from a very short prologue and epilogue, the entire play/film takes place in the jury room (and an adjacent bathroom).
Minimalist Cast: At the beginning, other people (such as the defendant and the judge) are briefly shown, but for the rest of the film, we only see the twelve jurors (and the guard, briefly).
Monochrome Casting: Perhaps unsurprisingly for a film made in The Fifties, the jury is all-white (although one is an immigrant with a noticeable accent). Race Lift for the 1997 update, which features one Latino juror and four African Americans. In a twist, one of the latter is a Malcolm Xerox version of the bigoted Juror #10.
Though Edward James Olmos, who plays Juror #11 in the 1997 version, is indeed of Mexican descent, it is not made clear if Juror #11 is actually Latino, especially since Olmos' portrayal sticks with previous portrayals of the character as an immigrant watchmaker from an undisclosed (likely Eastern) European country.
Juror #11: What kind of a man are you? You have sat here and voted guilty with everyone else, because there are some baseball tickets burning a hole in your pocket. Now you have changed your vote because you say you're sick of all the talking? Who tells you that you have the right to play like this with a man's life? Don't you care?
Juror #7: Now, wait a minute. You can't talk that like that to me.
Juror #11: I can talk like that to you! If you want to vote not guilty, do it because you are convinced he is not guilty, not because you've had enough. And if you think he is guilty, then vote that way. Or don't you have the guts to do what you think is right?
Reverse Grip: An important plot point is how unlikely it is for any experienced knife fighter to use a switchblade this way.
Rogue Juror: If not the Trope Maker, definitely the Trope Codifier. In this case, however, the rogue juror isn't actually convinced of the defendant's innocence at first. He just wants to forestall an overly hasty deliberation.
Secondhand Storytelling: The murder of the victim, the police investigation, and the trial are all spoken about by the twelve jurors.
Speech-Centric Work: The film consists of the twelve jurors debating whether or not the defendant is guilty.
The Spock: Juror #4 (the stockbroker with wire rim glasses).
The Unreveal: Did the boy really kill his father? If he didn't, who did? Since the play and film only see the case from the jurors' perspective (not the police's), it is never discovered. All that is known is that it's possible that the boy is innocent—which, under the laws of the United States, is enough to keep him from being convicted.
Interestingly, no one, not even the last holdouts for a guilty verdict, asks how likely it is that a second, unknown suspect entered the apartment and committed the murder right after the boy left, with the same type of knife, and got away unseen.
Values Dissonance: At the time this was written in the '50s, women and nonwhites were excluded from jury service in some parts of the country. These days, the script is often produced as Twelve Angry Jurors with a more diverse cast. invoked
Verbal Tic: Juror #10 seems to have one of these, you know what I mean? *sniff*
Video Credits: Necessary, since none of the characters are named.
When Juror #10 delivers his famous rant. "Listen... listen to me...."
And Juror #3 shortly afterward. Made somewhat more poignant by the reactions of the other jurors; where they reacted to #10's breakdown with silent anger, they watch #3's meltdown with something closer to pity, as most of them realise why he is really pushing for a guilty verdict even as he denies the true reason, not just to the other jurors but to himself.
Wham Line: #8 has a wham action when he pulls out a switchblade identical to the murder weapon, but the best has to go to #9 when he points out the female witness had glasses marks on her nose, which renders her testimony useless (meaning she wasn't wearing her glasses at the time she saw the stabbing, meaning she wouldn't have been able to see the murderer correctly).
Each time a piece of evidence is found to be wanting, a Wham Line usually reveals the flaw, i.e. "No one who had used one of these knives would hold it like that." "What movie did you see that night?" etc.
Another especially notable one (for how thoroughly it demolishes a key piece of evidence):
Juror #8: "[The Old Man] would have had to hear the boy make this statement with the L roaring past his nose!"
Worthy Opponent: Both Juror #8 and #4 debate their points without getting too personal and seem to be just as factual as the other.
You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Juror #3 is asked to reenact the stabbing process on Juror #8. Given the tension between the two men, and #3's almost maniacal bloodthirstiness, there's a definite tension as to how "real" #3 will make the reenactment. Lampshaded by the alarmed reactions of most of the other ten jurors as he draws back the knife.
Referring back to the I'LL KILL YOU above, Juror #8 afterward remarks, "You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?"