23. Mar, 2017


I am slowly adding to my collection of classic films on DVD. My favourite period is from the 1920s through to the early sixties when the need to compete with television resulted in the great epics in which story line became less important than spectacle.

I could of course order a block of them from Amazon but prefer to hunt them out from dedicated shops, car boots, charity shops, market stalls etc., for the thrill of the chase.

From time to time I will review some of my favourites and hope that they will provide you with as much pleasure as they have given me. First up…”The 12 Angry Men”.

If it is the function of the mass-media to instruct, educate, entertain and persuade then “The 12 Angry Men” ticks all the boxes.

Made in 1957 (not the remake of 40 years later) and starring Henry Fonda, as soon as it became available first on tape and then DVD, I showed it to all of my history classes as an object lesson in Critical Literacy.

To many, the Past and History are the same thing. They are not. The latter consists of a number of academic skills directly applicable to everyday life and consists of product and process.

Product is what we think we know and is both incremental and provisional. Process is the means by which we find out what we think we know. It calls for the continual questioning of experience, (especially our own) as it comes to us through our senses and resulting thought processes…
“I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.”

It also calls for an understanding of change, causation, the need for empathy, evaluating the different interpretations of experts past and present and the objective analysis of evidence. It is this that brings me back to the “12 Angry Men.”

The film opens in a New York courtroom. The accused is a teenager from an obviously deprived neighbourhood, accused of murdering his father. He is clearly overwhelmed by what is happening to him. Before turning the verdict over to the jury, the judge is plainly bored by what to him is a run-of-the -mill case but explains the need for a unanimous verdict “beyond reasonable doubt.”

Once in the jury room, we meet the twelve men of the title. Eleven of them are adamant that the boy is guilty, which would mean execution. Only Henry Fonda (Jurer #8) demurs but not because he thinks the boy is innocent. He is just not sure and as he says, the boys life is surely worth a few minutes of discussion.

He then proceeds to forensically examine the evidence presented to the court, winning over his fellow jurors one by one to question each and every assumption. As he does so, the temperature inside and out of the room rises with the imminent arrival of a rain storm.
First to agree with him is the oldest juror #9, (Joseph Sweeney). The rest then fall in as their preconceptions and prejudices are gradually destroyed to the point where all are forced to accept that there is “reasonable doubt” about the guilt of the accused.

The supporting cast are of the highest calibre…
Juror #1 (Martin Balsam) a High School football coach and jury foreman.
#2 (John Fiedler) Mild mannered
#3 (Lee J. Cobb) The last juror to fold… a bully, wants to punish the accused for the imagined sins of his own son.
#4 (E.G. Marshall) Comfortably off businessman convinced the accused is guilty but gives way to Fonda’s logic.
#5 (Jack Klugman) Resident of similar neighbourhood to that of the accused.
#6 (Edward Binns) Blue collar worker protective of juror #2
#7 (Jack Warden) Wants to get the case over as quickly as possible in order to get to a ball game.
#10 (Ed Begley) The most hateful of the jurors, blindly prejudiced against “those people.”
#11 (George Voskovec) A recent immigrant.
#12 (Robert Webber) A weak, indecisive ad-man

They represent a wide spectrum of society, yet apart from Fonda, are initially prey to exactly the same preconceptions, prejudices and failure to ask “What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.”
Finally, just to whet your appetites, a few quotes from the film…
1. "He just isn't sure. It's not easy to stand alone
against the ridicule of others."
2. "Wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth."
3. "He's a common ignorant slob. He don't even speak good English.".
4. "You lousy bunch of bleeding hearts."
5. "I beg pardon."
-"I beg pardon. What are you so polite about?"
"For the same reason you are not. It's the way I was brought up."

Please do see this film…you will not be disappointed. Apart from anything else it is a 60 year old blast against Trumpism and the concept of “alternative facts”.