Blu-ray Review: Criterion Edition of Timeless ‘12 Angry Men’

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CHICAGO – Few films from the ’50s have held up quite as remarkably as “12 Angry Men.” It’s a human drama that’s constantly being remade, re-told, and even re-imagined into other stories. What is it about this one-room story that has such timeless power? Why has it survived generations, working as much today as it did 54 years ago? Does anyone think it won’t have the same power 54 years from now? Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0

The story of “12 Angry Men” was originally told on television as a part of a dramatic movie series in 1955 and, in typically awesome Criterion fashion, the entire TV movie is included here. As detailed in the excellent production history featurettes on the Criterion version, this instant classic wasn’t expected to have much an impact. They hired a rookie director in Sidney Lumet and essentially lucked into one of the best debuts of all time. So many of the Lumet touchstones were already on display here — a man caught in a morally tough situation and a production that uses New York actors and locations.

12 Angry Men
12 Angry Men
Photo credit: The Criterion Collection

Watching “12 Angry Men” in light of what Lumet would accomplish and in the context of Henry Fonda’s career is fascinating for Hollywood history buffs but that’s not why this is a regular entry on lists of the best movies ever made — it’s the human story of it all. Few scripts have had such inherent power that they could be translated into Russian five decades after they were originally produced (the recent “12”). It’s about a man who goes against the grain, who stands by his morals in the face of pressure. That’s a story that will never lose its power. We all want the spine of Juror 8. We all want to think we would stand up for what we believe in the same way. And we all, at least a little bit, want to be more Henry Fonda and less Lee J. Cobb.

12 Angry Men was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 22nd, 2011
12 Angry Men was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 22nd, 2011
Photo credit: The Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection version of “12 Angry Men” comes out at the company’s busiest time of the year, as they’ve recently released some of the best movies ever made (“The Three Colors Trilogy,” “Rushmore,” “Dazed and Confused,” “The Lady Vanishes”) in an effort to find their way on to your Christmas shopping list. As much as I love “Three Colors,” for most people, this is the one to get. This is the film that everyone can love and could serve as a great introduction to the most important home release collection of all time. Everyone should experience the Criterion collection and “12 Angry Men” is the perfect place to start.

12 Angry Men, by Sidney Lumet , may be the most radical big-screen courtroom drama in cinema history. A behind-closed-doors look at the American legal system as riveting as it is spare, the iconic adaptation of Reginald Rose’s teleplay stars Henry Fonda as the initially dissenting foreman on a jury of white men ready to pass judgment on a Puerto Rican teenager charged with murdering his father. What results is a saga of epic proportions that plays out in real time over ninety minutes in one sweltering room. Lumet’s electrifying snapshot of 1950s America on the verge of change is one of the great feature-film debuts.

Special Features:
o Frank Schaffner’s 1955 Television Version With an Introduction by Ron Simon, Curator at the Paley Center for Media
o Production History of 12 Angry Men, From Teleplay To Big Screen Classic
o Archival Interviews With Director Sidney Lumet
o Interview With Screen writer Walter Bernstein About Lumet
o Interview With Simon About Writer Reginald Rose
o Tragedy in a Temporary Town - A Teleplay Directed by Lumet and Written by Rose
o Interview With Cinematographer John Bailey About Director of Photography Boris Kaufman
o Original Theatrical Trailer

“12 Angry Men” stars Henry Fonda, Robert Webber, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, and Jack Klugman. It was written by Reginald Rose and directed by Sidney Lumet. The Criterion Collection edition was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 22nd, 2011. content director Brian Tallerico

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Bruce's picture

12 Angry Men - a great movie

12 Angry Men - a great movie indeed - spellbinding in its character studies. Two errors made by the producers; 1, the movie should have been filmed in color; 2, the movie soundtrack by Kenyon Hopkins should have been made available for commercial release.

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