When I reviewed Criterion’s two-disc release of “Ran,” I mentioned the film class I took in high school. Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” (1957) was one of the movies we watched, and I remember writing a paper in which I argued that the film wasn’t all it was cracked up to be; it was typical snot-nosed teenager talk.
Like Henry Fonda’s memorable Juror #8, the movie changed my mind while watching it again for this review. I suppose I needed the life experiences of the past 20-plus years to fully understand the social issues this film digs into. Like most classic works of art, “12 Angry Men” serves not only as a portrait of its era but also a prescient window into our present day. It wouldn’t be hard to update this story for a modern audience, as William Friedkin did for a 1997 made-for-TV movie, and as other directors have done for the stage versions mounted over the last few decades.
While Friedkin’s version isn’t included here, the original rendition of this tale, which was put on for live TV in 1954, is also presented on disc one. It’s preceded by an introduction from Paley Center for Media curator Ron Simon, who talks about the network TV environment that existed back then and how writer Reginald Rose was inspired by his own experience on a jury to write “12 Angry Men.” A longer 25-minute piece with film scholar Vance Kepley traces the evolution of “12 Angry Men” from its first incarnation through Lumet’s movie, Friedkin’s version and even one that was made in Russia. This is one of those stories that will always endure, since the issues it addresses will never go away.
The 1954 TV version is notable for its deviations large and small from the film. While the storyline is the same, a couple plot points are introduced differently — in particular, the woman with the glasses is described as wearing them on the witness stand, whereas in the movie the characters realize she has indentations on the sides of her nose that they deduce must have been from wearing them — and the ending is more ambiguous. In addition, the main antagonist, Juror #3, is more sharply drawn in the film, with a much more overbearing personality than his suit-clad counterpart in the TV show.
Over on disc two, the materials dig into the careers of Lumet, Rose, and director of photography Boris Kaufman. Lumet’s career is traced through two archival interviews with him, as well as a new one with his friend Walter Bernstein. Simon pops back in to cover Rose’s TV career; the show “Tragedy in a Temporary Town,” which was written by Rose and directed by Lumet with a 1956 air date, is also available. Finally, cinematographer John Bailey spends 40 minutes covering Kaufman’s career.
The obligatory booklet features an essay by writer and law professor Thane Rosenbaum.