First produced on CBS’ hourlong “Studio One” series in 1954 and directed by Franklin Schaffner, Reginald Rose’s Emmy-winning “The Twelve Angry Men” was expanded by Rose in 1957 into a highly successful 95-minute feature directed by the debuting Sidney Lumet. Now Rose has somewhat updated the trial drama, and, if its theatricality shows, it still has its rousing moments.
With a high-class cast headed by George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon, “12 Angry Men” has been intelligently and resourcefully directed by William Friedkin, who uses the jury room as a liberating force for each character to reveal himself.
In the familiar format, 11 members of an all-male jury, considering a Queens Latino accused of knifing his father to death, are stymied by one juror (Lemmon) who has reasonable doubts. The game of changing minds begins to resemble dominoes.
Rose’s intelligent characterizations remain involving, though some of the lingo updates stick out (Mike Tyson’s moniker intrudes, for instance). Private weaknesses and strengths are still skillfully exposed to explain characters’ reasoning, but over the course of the drama the mind changes begin to feel manipulative.
Yet with actors such as Scott, whose bitter juror votes to convict the youth because of his own wrenching secret, the meller swells to major drama; his powerful summation puts the game away. Lemmon’s dedicated, appraising character is attractive and certainly on the right side, and the actor Lemmon makes him work.
Thanks to Friedkin’s thoughtful direction, the ensemble acting is mostly admirable, and seeing first-class actors at work is reassuring in this era of TV whiz-bang, zap and soundtrack giggles.
Hume Cronyn plays his role like a sturdy-if-frail reed, and Ossie Davis’ resolute study of a man committing himself to his feelings is persuasive. Armin Mueller-Stahl’s interp of what might have been a vacillating character is instead an authoritative, uncompromising truth-seeker.
Tony Danza’s lightweight study lightens the drama and lacks conviction, but Edward James Olmos’ solid, dedicated watchmaker is persuasive. The quiet rage Dorian Harewood harbors in his role is totally credible.
Fred Schuler’s camera admirably prowls and pounces as the shades of opinion develop. Augie Hess’ editing is superior, and Bill Malley’s production design is direct and terrif.