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:
- Freudian Excuse: Inverted for Juror #3 - he spends the movie continuously trying to convict a young man where there is more and more reasonable doubt for his guilt because his relationship with his son appeared to have gone very sour. He realizes this at the end, though, and does not continue his stance.
- Fulton Street Folly: The film is set in a New York City courtroom, and the opening and closing scenes were shot on location at the New York State Supreme Court Building in Lower Manhattan.
- The Ghost: The witnesses mentioned are never shown.
- Grey and Gray Morality: Though the pro-acquittal side is painted A Lighter Shade of Grey.
- Guile Hero: Juror #8. His smarts kick-start the plot.
- Heat Wave: One of the jurors remarks that it's supposed to be the hottest day of the year, and most of them are sweaty and agitated in the poorly-ventilated deliberation room. Things get a little better once they manage to get the wall fan running.
- 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: 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.
- Hypocritical Humor: This exchange, which is even funnier when considering that Juror #11 is an immigrant to the US from Europe.
Juror #10: He's a common, ignorant slob. He don't even speak good English.
Juror #11: Doesn't even speak good English.
- 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 #7 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.
- Ineffectual Death Threats: One point of discussion is whether the defendant was serious when he allegedly shouted "I'll Kill You!" prior to the murder. Juror #3 insists that anyone who says that in anger means it, but Juror #8 later throws this back at him after provoking him into doing the same.
- 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.
- Jerk Ass Facade / Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Juror #3. It turns out that the reason he is so gung-ho about pushing for a "guilty" verdict is because of his own anger at his son, which has caused him to be distrustful of teens.
- Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Juror #10. After being left as one of the last three holdouts for a "guilty" vote, he launches into a racist tirade, revealing his true motives behind why he is pushing for a guilty verdict. The other jurors turn away in disgust one by one until he peters out. He never says a word after this.
- 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.
- Lampshade Hanging: "You know, it's interesting he'd find a knife exactly like the one the boy bought!"
- 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.
- Nameless Narrative: No names are used for any of the jurors, and not even for the victim or defendant. The film added an epilogue not in the play that gives last names for two of them (Davis for #8, and McCardle for #9).
- Nice Hat: Juror #7 dons a straw fedora throughout the 1957 film, while Juror #10 wears a fez in the 1997 version.
- Oh, Crap: Juror #3's face when he realizes that he's just contradicted his own argument subtly, but wonderfully, evokes this sentiment.
- Pet the Dog: After Juror #3's Villainous Breakdown, he puts his head down on the table and cries. Once all the other jurors have left, Juror #8 gets 3's coat and helps him put it on.
- Race Lift: The original featured 12 white men. The 1997 movie diversified the racial makeup of the jury.
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: While there are plenty of impassioned speeches, the trope is less severe than most examples since the characters often stutter or pause at key points.
- Real Time: Fully in the play; broken briefly at the beginning and end of the film.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Juror #11 to Juror #7, after the latter changes his vote just to break the deadlock:
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.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Juror #10 digs his own grave when he starts shooting his mouth off about how inferior the lower classes are. By the time he's finished, when everyone has clearly stopped listening, this trope is all it takes to shut him up for the rest of the movie.
- Speech-Centric Work: The film consists of the twelve jurors debating whether or not the defendant is guilty.
- The Spock / The Stoic: Juror #4 fits both tropes better than anyone. He remains calm throughout the entire deliberation and, despite being one of the last holdouts in favor of conviction, does so out of honest belief. Once all of his objections have been rebutted, he changes his vote without complaint.
- Title by Number: 12 Angry Men.
- Thunder Equals Downpour: One clap of thunder, cue rainstorm.
- 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.
- Physical abuse is treated more lightly in this movie than it would be today. While most of the jurors seem to disapprove that the boy's father beat him regularly, they don't seem too phased when Juror #3 defends it against "a kid like that".
- 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.
- Villainous Breakdown:
- 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). More specifically, he mentions the glasses marks, and they all spend a good bit of time bickering over the significance of whether or not she normally wears glasses and whether it makes a difference... and then #8 asks if they think she'd be wearing the glasses in bed at midnight.
- 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, each seems to be just as factual as the other, and #4 certainly seems to view #8 this way.
- You Talk Too Much: Juror 10 becomes irritated, then frustrated and outraged that the deliberations are starting to favor acquittal. He finally snaps and goes on a racist tirade about Hispanics and people from the slums – they're dirty, smelly people who have no socially redeeming value and should be left to the slums where they can kill themselves off. The other jurors have enough and, one by one, turn away from him. When Juror 10 realizes he's lost his audience, except for one, he begs off, saying, "Listen to me … ." The remaining juror, Juror 4 – at this point still a strong "guilty" vote – says (and very tersely), "I have. Now sit down and don't open your mouth again." For the rest of the deliberations, Juror 10 doesn't utter another word.
- You Wouldn't Shoot Me:
- Juror #3 is asked to re-enact 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 re-enactment. 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! example above, Juror #8 afterward remarks, "You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?"