12 Angry Men (1957) – A Movie Review

12 Angry Men is a courtroom drama, or more accurately a jury room drama.  It almost entirely takes place in the jury deliberation room in a downtown Manhattan court building.  The star of the movie is Henry Fonda as Juror 8.  The setup (and it is a setup) has Fonda as the only juror unwilling to vote not guilty in a murder trial.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last two paragraphs to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The eleven other jurors to a greater or lesser extent are convinced that the trial has proven the guilt of the young man accused of stabbing his father to death with a switch blade knife.  There was an eye witness to the killing and another witness heard the defendant threaten to kill his father and saw him running away from the murder scene just after the killing.  Another witness saw the defendant in possession of a switch blade knife the day of the murder.  The defendant’s alibi was that he was at a movie theater at the time of the killing but no one remembers him there and he could not remember the name of the movies playing or even the actors in the movie.  When questioned about the whereabouts of the switch blade he had been seen with, he claimed it had fallen out of his pocket without his knowing it and wasn’t the one found plunged into his father’s chest.

When the deliberations begin the foreman (played by Martin Balsam) asks them to start with a preliminary vote to see how many want to vote not guilty.  Fonda says he has doubts.  He is verbally challenged by Juror 3 (Lee J. Cobb) who is portrayed as a belligerent, irascible man who is determined that the verdict be guilty.  His behavior is so extreme that you can see he is being set up as the bad guy.  And what we are shown is that the other jurors are so annoyed by Juror 3’s behavior that regardless of the logic of the case they find themselves more sympathetic to Juror 8’s arguments.

Step by step Juror 8 attacks the details of the case against the defendant.  With regard to the witness who heard the fight and saw the defendant running from the building, Juror 8 uses the fact that a nearby elevated train was passing at the time of the murder to cast doubt on what the witness could have heard.  And then based on the disabled status of this old man he contradicts the idea that he could have reached the staircase in time to see the defendant running out of the building.  Next he shows that the switchblade knife that killed the defendant’s father was of a common design easily available by producing one he bought the day before in the neighborhood where the murder took place.  With the help of Juror 9 he makes a plausible case that the eye witness to the murder might have been unable to see the murder clearly due to poor vision.  To the question of the defendant not remembering the movies he’d seen that night Juror 9 questions Juror 4 about his memory of two movies he had gone to a week before.  And although he remembered the movies’ titles, he was incorrect on one of the actresses in the second feature.

As each of these questions was raised by Juror 8 one by one the other jurors changed their votes until finally it’s only Juror 3 who claims to have no reasonable doubts and still wants to declare the defendant guilty.  At this point we witness Juror 3 rant about the character of the young defendant and we realize from his speech that he has a grudge against his own son who has turned against his father because of his brutal strictness.  And finally relenting Juror 3 declares not guilty and the jury leaves the room to announce their decision, not guilty, in the court room.

This film is a leftist propaganda film.  The intent is to try and prove that no matter how much evidence there is against a defendant in a case there can always be enough doubt generated by clever obfuscation to justify a not guilty verdict.  The characters are defined so that the audience will obviously admire Juror 8 and despise Juror 3.  The first is presented as an educated, white collar, intelligent, polished speaker and the latter is a working class, obnoxious bully who can’t help but alienate all around him.  The defendant is portrayed as non-white, poor and coming from a criminal family background.  All these things are used as points against him by Juror 3 and by others of the jury.  This ethnic and class bias is highlighted as another factor in the unfairness of the opinions of the jurors.

Obviously I’m not a fan of the message that the film is meant to make.  However, I think the film is well made.  The cast is for the most part, very good.  I’ll list the below for your perusal but I’ll say that they are all pretty with Martin Balsam and E.G. Marshall providing particularly strong supporting roles.  Fonda and Cobb have the lion’s share of the camera and even though Cobb provides the strawman for Fonda’s attack I thought they both were pretty good.

As I’ve said this is propaganda and propaganda for the Left.  But the topic of the importance of the jury in our society is something that should be thought about and dramatized.  I served on a jury that tried to ignore its duty and decide against a defendant without any actual evidence.  I was forced to hang the jury.  Seeing how Americans were willing to abandon their duty and instead declare a verdict based on personal animus was shocking and enraging for me at the time.  I think a movie about the jury process is a worthy thing to make.  I would prefer a better one but I will admit I think watching this movie is worthwhile.  Intelligent people will know they’re being patronized and judge accordingly.  But it will still be an interesting experience.  I guardedly recommend this movie on those terms.

Martin Balsam                                 …            Juror 1

John Fiedler                                        …            Juror 2

Lee J. Cobb                                         …            Juror 3

E.G. Marshall                                      …            Juror 4

Jack Klugman                                     …            Juror 5

Edward Binns                                     …            Juror 6

Jack Warden                                      …            Juror 7

Henry Fonda                                      …            Juror 8

Joseph Sweeney                              …            Juror 9

Ed Begley                                            …            Juror 10

George Voskovec                             …            Juror 11

Robert Webber                                 …            Juror 12

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – A Movie Review

This is a caper movie.  Four men armed with machine guns hijack a New York City subway train and hold the passengers for a million-dollar ransom.  Walter Matthau plays Lt. Garber of the NYC Transit Authority Police who negotiates with the kidnappers.  Robert Shaw is “Mr. Blue,” the criminal mastermind of the gang.  With supporting cast members Jerry Stiller as Lt. Rico Patrone, a cop working for Garber, Martin Balsam as “Mr. Green,” the man in the gang who knows how to run a subway train and Lee Wallace as the despised and cowardly Mayor of New York the movie is a taut drama with humor and suspense mixing perfectly to suspend disbelief.  And with gobs of local color from a supporting cast that acts and talks remarkably like actual New Yorkers of the period (as I can personally attest) the movie bumps along from the initial capture of the train to the first dead body to the mad dash to get the ransom money to the stone-cold killers who enforce a deadline with the lives of the hostages at gunpoint.

Matthau and Stiller provide the comic relief and Shaw provides the menace with bloodless calm.  The hostages are a tapestry of the ethnicities and callings of that time and the other parts, cops, the mayor’s cronies and the transit workers all add texture to the story.  And the swearing!  Except for Robert Shaw almost every character including the women curse a blue streak.  Some of it is actually quite amusing but it should be mentioned in case there are any folks who would take offense.  And the most important character of the whole drama is the New York City subway system of that era.  The movie was made in and on the subway trains and tunnels and it is unmistakably authentic.  It brings back the thousands of hours of my life I spent travelling around Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and The Bronx on subway cars.

Here we are almost fifty years since this movie was made and it stands up very well although only the old remember the New York City being represented.  I must confess it did my heart good to see the people of that era being represented.  The city back then probably had a higher crime rate than even now in these post George Floyd riots times.  And racial tensions were high and neighborhoods treated outsiders with suspicion.  But at least back then people still considered the police as part of the solution.  Nowadays the police are so disrespected that they probably wouldn’t even bother to save the hostages’ lives.  They’d wait until the hostages were shot and then write up the reports and look for some surveillance footage for the six o’clock news report.

I highly recommend this movie with just a warning about the swearing for the genteel.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 4 Episode 12 – The New Exhibit

Martin Senescu is an employee at a wax museum. His job is to care for the five wax figures of mass murderers (Jack the Ripper, Albert W. Hicks, Henri Désiré Landru, William Burke and William Hare) that are under his care. But one day the museum owner, Mr. Ferguson, tells Martin that he’s closing the museum. Rather than see his five exhibits destroyed Martin begs Mr. Ferguson to allow him to take them to his basement and preserve them until a museum wants them. He installs air conditioning to keep them melting in the summer heat and hovers over them while trying to find them a new home.

But his wife Emma is very upset. Her husband is unemployed but instead of finding a job he spends the little money they have left to buy air conditioning for the basement and pay the enormous electric bill caused by running the air conditioning day and night. Also, she can’t use the washing machine and dryer any longer. And finally, she’s frightened to death by the look of these grim wax figures. She goes to speak to her brother Dave and he tells her she should give Martin an ultimatum; either he gets rid of the wax figures or she’ll leave. When she hesitates at the severity of this tactic Dave mentions that maybe instead, the air conditioner could break down and ruin the figures.

That night Emma gives Martin the ultimatum but he assures her that he’ll find a solution if she’ll just have a little patience. After Martin and Emma go to bed, she sneaks down to the basement to shut off the air conditioning but as she passes Jack the Ripper, we seem to see Jack’s knife hand move and Emma screams in terror.

Next morning Martin heads down to the basement looking for Emma and finds her dead at the foot of Jack the Ripper. He sees blood on Jack’s knife and upbraids him for the murder. But you can tell he’s doing it as a friend. Martin buries Emma in the basement and covers her over with fresh cement.

Later on, Emma’s brother Dave shows up and wants to know where Emma is and what has happened to the wax figures. Martin tells her that she’s gone on a trip to visit Martin’s sister and that he has gotten rid of the figures. But Dave hears the air conditioning still running in the basement and doesn’t believe Martin. Dave breaks into the basement from outside and while he’s investigating the fresh cement the figure of Albert W. Hicks appears to attack him with an ax.

The next day Martin finds Dave’s body and once again chastises the other figure for this serious lack of restraint. Martin must then have buried Dave as he did Emma.

At some later date, Mr. Ferguson visits Martin at his home with the amazing news that a famous wax museum in Belgium wants to but the wax figures. But it is obvious from his demeanor that Martin is sad that the figures will be leaving his life. Martin agrees to the idea sadly and while he goes to the kitchen to make tea for them, Mr. Ferguson goes into the basement to measure the figures for shipping arrangements. But when he turns his back, he is garroted by the figure of Henri Désiré Landru.

When Martin comes downstairs to the basement carrying the tea service he is outraged. It’s one thing for wax figures to murder his wife and brother-in-law. It’s a completely different thing to murder a fellow fan of wax museums who was going to find them a good home in Belgium. Martin picks up a crow bar and threatens to destroy all of them for their ingratitude.

But now the figures seem to move toward him and they accuse him of being the actual murderer of all three victims. And the scene ends with Martin cringing at the onslaught of the five figures.

In the next scene we are in Marchand’s Wax Museum in Belgium and we see the five figures on display but then we see a new figure. It is Martin Lombard Senescu, an infamous modern-day addition to the mass murder club.

Now animate wax figures would seem to violate photog’s prime directive against living mannequins, robots, ventriloquist’s dummies and dolls. But a more careful analysis would reveal that this is actually a psychological drama. Martin has allowed his empathy for the figures to allow him to assign his crimes to them. And it’s interesting that Martin is played by Martin Balsam, the actor who played the private detective Milton Arbogast who is killed by Norman Bates, a character who attributes his own murders to an equally inanimate object, namely, his mother’s poorly taxidermized corpse.

Anyway, assuming that Martin is the murderer would seem to remove this episode from the purview of a Twilight Zone episode and therefore force me to give it a failing grade but I am going to make an exception. Martin truly should belong in the Twilight Zone and I’m giving him a B. He’s earned it.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 4 – The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine

This is the homage to Sunset Boulevard.  Ida Lupino is playing an over the hill actress named Barbara Jean Trenton.  Martin Balsam plays her manager Danny Weiss who wants her to stop living in the past and rejoin the world.  But Barbara Jean wants it to be 1934 forever, back when she was a beautiful young star.  So basically, this is Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard except instead of murder we get urban fantasy.  So, no surprise, after she realizes she was too old for the movies the world no longer had any appeal.  So, of course, she ends up entering into the 16 millimeter film of the title.  She is seen walking off camera with all of her old friends from twenty five years ago.

Obviously, there are no surprises here.  It’s a straight forward wish fulfillment plot.  It’s a good story and I’ll give it a B.  Not bad.