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12 Angry Men
One of my favorite movies of all time is the movie 12 Angry Men. (Yes, I agree. The trailer is a bit over the top, but I guess that’s how they made “Coming Attractions” shorts back in 1957!) Here is how the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) summarizes the plot:
The defense and the prosecution have rested, and the jury is filing into the jury room to decide if a young man is guilty or innocent of murdering his father. What begins as an open-and-shut case of murder soon becomes a detective story that presents a succession of clues creating doubt, and a mini-drama of each of the jurors’ prejudices and preconceptions about the trial, the accused, AND each other. Based on the play, all of the action takes place on the stage of the jury room.
The movie featured many well-known, Oscar-winning actors, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated the film for Best Picture.
I have viewed this movie several times and find it fascinating. The screenplay, nominated for an Oscar, and the acting, in my opinion, are impeccable.
I love this movie dearly because it showcases persuasion in the context of opposing beliefs, prejudices, biases, and the firmly held conviction that some people have that they are certain they are correct, and no evidence contrary to that viewpoint will persuade them otherwise. (I have a family member that was in management at Ma Bell, and for training on leadership, they watched this movie to learn about persuasion.)
Warning: I mention a few spoiler alerts below if you haven’t seen the movie …
The movie is in a jury deliberation room except for the beginning scenes. Henry Fonda is the protagonist in the film. Based on what the prosecutor presented in the courtroom, all the jurors are convinced that the young man on trial is guilty of murdering his father. They all hope to take a vote and quickly convict the defendant, with the consequence of the verdict being the state will execute the accused. Except things don’t go as the jurors projected. That’s where Henry Fonda’s character comes into focus.
During the initial vote, Fonda’s character votes “Not guilty.” Does he know the young man didn’t kill his father? No, but he doubts some evidence and wants to discuss it with the other jurors. They want no part in discussing anything and want Fonda’s character to capitulate and vote, “Guilty!” He finally agrees to another vote. If all eleven other jurors still say the defendant is guilty, Fonda’s character will change his ballot to guilty, and they all can convict the defendant and get along with their lives. However, on the second vote, one other juror votes “not guilty,” much to the chagrin of the ten jurors insisting that the son killed his father. The movie kicks into gear at that point, and the jurors’ backgrounds, character flaws, prejudices, and family dynamics are revealed.
Unfortunately, if a producer made that movie today, it would have a different denouement. The other jurors would bully Fonda’s character into going along with the majority and vote guilty, resulting in a short movie indeed. Or, let’s say he had intestinal fortitude and kept to his idea that the jurors should consider the strength of the evidence presented in the trial before sending a young man to his execution. All the remaining jurors would hold on to their positions, prejudices, and biases and tune out any evidence to the contrary. The movie would end with a hung jury, and maybe a sequel would be made, The Return of a Different 12 Angry Men!
Unlike the original 12 Angry Men, people nowadays are not receptive to persuasion, reason, or the possibility of being wrong. It’s feelings over facts, emotions over evidence, and cancellation over communication. That is the world we currently live in, and debate is defunct.
At least I can watch a good movie like 12 Angry Men and think of a world that could have been.Published in General
I was a foreman on a jury and we had one hold out who said at one point “Fine I will vote with you” and I said “No, do not given in. We are here to discuss. Talk to us”.
Well done, IMO. Thanks for this.
For some reason (perhaps Henry Fonda), I associate this movie with the Ox Bow Incident.
They are both compelling and very well done, atypical of much of what is produced today.
I agree this is a great movie. I’ve seen it once, sometime in the ’80s, and can still vividly picture the scene when the final holdout breaks down and changes his vote to not guilty.
My second jury, we had an older black lady who held out for a good while. No one leaned on her to change her vote, and we just kept discussing the case until she came around. If she’d refused to cave, I wouldn’t have blamed her.
What I always found interesting about that film is, in the end, you really don’t know if they got it right or not.
Kinda like being on a jury…
Yes, my one experience on a criminal case ended up being a hung jury. First vote was 10-2 to convict. I was one of the two. After a couple days it was 7-5 to acquit and we realized that was as far as we could go. I was surprised to see how people were ready to send a guy to jail with very little evidence, and I am sure some on the other side saw me as a softy willing to let a criminal walk free. But in the jury room everyone was professional and the arguments were always about evidence and never personal.
I served on three juries* over three weeks about a decade ago. Each one of them was an example of the police (sherrif’s department in these cases) and the DAs attempting to railroad the defendant. The “expert witnesses” were impeccable. But the cops weren’t, and that’s where this idea of “reasonable doubt” comes in.
In each case, I felt like Henry Fonda in the jury room. And in all three cases, the defendants walked free. Each time the judge came to talk with us and said that we’d made the correct decision.
In at least two of the cases the dude was almost definitely guilty, but the way the cops mishandled things (example 1: the officer found crystal meth in the car. Except he didn’t search the car right away, and he left the passenger in the car after taking the defendent out for 15 minutes of questioning–0ver a speeding violation. Then he let the passenger go and arrested the driver. The expert witness from the state lab swore up and down that the substance found was crystal meth. But no one demonstrated that it could not have reasonably been put there by the passenger while the defendant was outside the car.) meant that we let them go.
Full disclosure: I didn’t see the film until after serving on a jury. But we read the script from the 1954 TV version when I was in 6th grade, and it made an impression on me.
*in 5th grade my class visited the Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana. We held a mock trial in one of the courtrooms, and my teacher asked me if I wanted to serve as the judge. I said no, that I wanted to be on the jury. When she asked why, I said, “Because it’s the jury that actually decides the case.” After serving on those three juries, I felt like I made the right decision back then.
As a lawyer, I was surprised to be seated on a jury in a criminal case a few years ago. A young man (18) was accused of assault-domestic violence against his younger (16) girlfriend. The prosecutor, during the voir dire, wanted each prospective juror to assure him it would not bother the juror that the victim would not be testifying.
After one day of testimony by an investigator and the victim’s friends, the state rested. The defense would start the next day. We gathered in the jury room the next morning and waited. And waited. Around 10:30AM, the bailiff appeared with a box of donuts and apologies for the delay. Just after noon, we were brought into the courtroom and told by the judge there had been legal issues to be argued and resolved in the morning, and we would take a short lunch break and start up again at 1PM.
When we resumed, who should be on the stand but the victim! And she denied that the defendant had ever struck her. The state asked no questions.
When deliberations began, we elected a female junior high teacher as foreman (if anyone can wrangle a jury, it’d be a junior high school teacher!). We all then sort of expressed wonder why this case had even been brought, it seemed so slim. But after deliberating that afternoon and the next morning, we unanimously convicted the defendant (there were related property damage charges that lent weight to the assault alleged as well). We found the friends’ testimony believable while the victim’s was not. We felt she was either under the defendant’s spell or she was simply afraid of him.
After all was done, in the hallway the prosecutor was talking with some of us jurors, and we learned the delay had been caused by the court permitting the state to try to interview the victim before the defense could put her on the stand, but also, why the case, slim as it was, had been brought: the defendant had been convicted of assaulting his girlfriends twice before, in juvenile court, and the prosecutors felt with his pattern of violent behavior, he had to be brought up short before he graduated to killing someone.
Do you have any evidence of this? Or is it just your opinion?
Have you changed your mind about anything over, say the last 4-5 years? I have. My example would seem to undermine your claim.
Sign me up for Jury Duty!!!!🤤
As stated . . .”people nowadays are not receptive to persuasion, reason, or the possibility of being wrong.”
Do you feel that this is incorrect? I do not FWIW.
Unfortunately, I live in a very liberal area and had numerous conversations with obdurate individuals. Even when presented with evidence that contradicts their beliefs, they either don’t believe me even when presented with news articles (“That’s fake news!!), or they’ll make an excuse and dismiss the facts. For example, I provided this video and this video to prove it was a canard that President Trump, when he said that there were “very fine people on both sides,” was referring to White supremacists. My neighbor’s response – “Well, it took Trump too long to respond to the tragedy.” I tried to show her evidence about what President Trump actually said regarding the Charlottesville riots, and her response was non-sequitur. During the conversation, she asked me if I was a holocaust denier. This was after she had invited me to their house for dinner and board games, and she knew me as a friend.
I know there are exceptions to my claim that no one changes their mind on things, but when you live in a liberal bastion, you become a bit jaded.
One of my favorite examples of a former Liberal changing their firmly held position on something is that of Brandon Straka. But it takes a person like him with an inquisitive mind to have the capacity to be receptive to arguments that challenge their beliefs.
To answer your question – I have changed my mind in the last 4 to 5 years. However, I believe that is the exception and not the rule.
BTW – For fun, if you have a discussion with a Liberal that thinks President Trump attracts White nationalists and neo-Nazis to his campaign, have them explain why the neo-Nazi who brought White supremacists to Charlottesville voted for Biden.
I have 12 likes for my post “12 Angry Men.” If I had changed the title to “13 Angry Men,” would I have 13 likes by now? 🤔😳🤣
You realize that you’re more or less expected to “Like” your own post, now? That was part of the change: They upped the threshold from 12 to 13, but you can “Like” your own post. Basically, doing that just returns to the status quo, so don’t worry about seeming odd or whatever.
I saw this a longtime ago, possibly ten years after the film was released in 1957.
Even in 1967, most homes and businesses were not air conditioned..
Then I saw it more recently.
One thing that struck me was how the atmosphere was tense because it was a very hot day and the jurors were stuck in a dumpy little room, with only a fan to bring down the oppressiveness of the heat.
Quite naturally they wanted out of there.
These days, no matter how tense the atmosphere might be in a jury room, at least the temperature is climate controlled.
Great choice. Also a family favorite of ours.
The Charmed (original, not craptastic remake) episode “Trial By Magic” was interesting too.
The 12 Angry Men trial should have been a mistrial, what with the jurors considering evidence outside of what was presented in court. Bringing a knife into the jury room as an example of how common the knife is was absolutely out of bounds.
It’s a good play, and a good movie, but it’s also a really bad portrayal of how the law works. The play should end with the judge threatening to punish the jurors for their misbehavior.
Probably. But it isn’t a legal drama, really. It’s a series of character sketches. And it captures a dozen distinct characters beautifully.
I strongly disagree with that. Of course it is not a one dimensional, one issue only work of art. The characters are very important. But when I read it in class the main issue we discussed was how this was an ideal example of how the American legal system is the best in the world.
One flaw I found in the movie was the son’s explanation for not having the knife he had purchased that day – that the knife fell through a hole in his pocket. It seemed like a lame excuse, and they didn’t address it in the deliberation room. However, the movie, in my opinion, is still excellent.
I’ve had that happen, although it was keys, not a knife.
For the sake of clarity and fairness, having re-read my post, I want to add that both the accused and victims in the trial were all white, and that I never believed race was involved in this lady’s holding out. I remember her non-nonsense dignity and toughness. She just had a problem with convicting on aggravated assault instead of simple assault.
I’ll stand by characterization of it as first and foremost a character driven vignette.
Look at the diversity of characters. The idealist, the bigot, the cynic, the bitter man, the Boy Scout, the working man, the intellectual, the vulnerable senior, the soulless suit, the borderline simpleton, the one who had been there. And one other I can’t remember.
It’s a remarkable movie.
Which one was the voice of Piglet?
John Fiedler, aka, Juror 2.
Yes. The borderline simpleton.
I read an article years ago that made the same argument. Especially the part about outside evidence.