12 Angry Men; a conversation on things that matter most in a free society
Updated: Feb 8, 2020
“It is nonsense to imagine that a free political community
can survive without citizens who purse lives of virtue.”
- James Madison
12 Angry Men inspires the virtue of civic friendship
This film teaches a vital lesson for all citizens living together in a free society. Achieving true justice in the public square requires not only the practice of virtue by a significant number of citizens, but also their willingness to engage each other in serious conversation and debate on the first principles of self-government. Throughout the story the life of the accused young man is on the line and each juror must search his conscience and make the moral choice for “guilty” or “not guilty” beyond a reasonable doubt.
This film presents the theme that the desire for true justice is inherent and universal in human nature. From the beginning of time all human beings have blind spots that often prevent them from seeing the truth. How these jurors overcome their blind spots and achieve genuine solidarity is the dramatic hook of the story. 12 Angry Men stands as the definitive film that models civil discourse in the public square of a nation.
12 Angry Men in film history
In 1954 Henry Fonda saw the original Reginald Rose teleplay of 12 Angry Men on Studio One. Rose had gotten the idea for the story from serving on a jury. The veteran actor knew immediately that he wanted to bring the story to the big screen. Henry Fonda and Reginald Rose became co- producers of the film.
Sydney Lumet, with his New York stage and television experience, was the logical choice for the director. Reginald Rose was part of the highly talented group of writers, actors, and directors who moved back and forth from the New York stage to the new medium of television.
This highly creative and artistically excellent time period from 1948-1956 is known as the “Golden Age of Television.” Sidney Lumet recalls this time: “The burst of talent in acting and directing and writing was just unbelievable.” Jack Klugman, who plays Juror five, pays tribute to Rose’s script and recalls the screenwriter’s great talent: “Reginald Rose wrote a phenomenal script and everybody played it to the hilt.”
In the documentary, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Making 12 Angry Men,
the late and deeply loved Turner Classic Movies host, Robert Osborne observes:
“You’ve got 12 guys basically sitting in a room and yet
it is one of the great thrillers of all time.”
The Virtue of Civic Friendship
Henry Fonda’s character helps his former antagonist, played by Lee J. Cobb, put on his coat. This final scene dramatizes a timely truth: citizens have a responsibility to extend civic friendship to opponents as well as allies.
The enduring appeal of 12 Angry Men reflects the universal desire for justice in an imperfect world.
12 Angry Men is part of the seven film anthology developed by Educational Guidance Institute Classic Film Study Guide
Visit Our Website www.EducationalGuidanceInstitute.com for more discussion of classic movies and our common world.