Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Movie Quotes: "12 Angry Men"

Back in 1957, Sidney Lumet (who received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar last Sunday) directed his first feature film, "12 Angry Men", after working for a decade in television. The original play is a superb piece of drama, and Lumet was able to transfer every ounce of that drama to the screen. He had help, of course, in his cast of excellent actors which include Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb and Martin Balsam.

Also included in the cast was Ed Begley as Juror #10. The character, who is white, is the most volatile and narrow minded of the dozen. At one point late in the play, he goes into a racist rant against Hispanics, which is the race of the accused. During this, the jurors physically turn away from him, one by one (Save for #4, who remains at the table only in order to give the final word on this man's opinions). The point drives home that, despite all the differences between the jury members, they can all agree that #10's bigoted arguments have absolutely no place in the jury room. It's a powerful moment in a film filled with them.

Flash forward forty years to 1997. Acclaimed filmmaker William Friedkin ("The French Connection"), decides to do his own television version of "12 Angry Men". Like Lumet, he is blessed with a great cast that includes Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott and James Gandolfini. Also included in the cast are a trio of black actors: Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis and Mykelti Williamson portray, respectively, the Foreman, Juror #2 and...Juror #10.

The dialogue for #10 remains the same. This time, however, we infer through the character's dress and manner that he is a member of the Nation of Islam, an organization not known for its tolerance. The speech about the accused, who remains Hispanic in this version, now takes on a new and interesting spin. As I mentioned in my pair of "Lion in Winter" reviews, the great thing about stage plays is the ability to interpret and explore, as Friedkin has done here.

I'm presenting the entire rant, including the stage directions, as it appears in both films.

Juror #10: I don't understand you people! I mean all these picky little points you keep bringing up. They don't mean nothin'. You saw this kid just like I did. You're not gonna tell me you believe that phony story about losing the knife, and that business about being at the movies. Look, you know how these people lie! It's born in them! I mean what the heck? I don't even have to tell you. They don't know what the truth is! And, lemme tell you, they don't need any real big reason to kill someone, either! No sir!

[Five gets up from his seat]

Juror #10: You know, they get drunk... oh, they're very big drinkers, all of 'em, and bang: someone's lyin' in the gutter. Oh, nobody's blaming them for it. That's how they are! By nature! You know what I mean? VIOLENT!

[Nine rises and crosses to the window]

Juror #10: Human life don't mean as much to them as it does to us!

[Eleven gets up and walks to the other window]

Juror #10: Hey! Where are you going? (Beginning to sound desperate.) Look, these people're lushing it up and fighting all the time and if somebody gets killed, so somebody gets killed! They don't care! Oh, sure, there are some good things about 'em, too. Look, I'm the first one to say that.

[Eight gets up and walks to the nearest wall]

Juror #10: I've known a couple who were OK, but that's the exception, y'know what I mean?

[Two and Six get up from the table. Everyone's back is to Ten]

Juror #10: Most of 'em, it's like they have no feelings! They can do anything! What's goin' on here? I'm trying to tell you we're makin' a big mistake, you people! This kid's a liar! I know it. I know all about them! I mean, what's happenin' here? I'm speaking my piece, and you...

[the Foreman gets up and walks away. So does Twelve]

Juror #10: Listen to me! They're no good! There's not a one of 'em who's any good!

[Seven turns away]

Juror #10: Boy, are you smart! Well, I'm tellin' 'ya we better watch out! This kid on trial here, his type... Well, don't you know about them?

[Three turns his back]

Juror #10: What are you doin'? Listen to me! I'm tryin' to tell you somethin'! There's a danger here! These people are wild! Don't you know about it? LISTEN TO ME! LISTEN!

Juror #4: I have. Now sit down and don't open your mouth again.

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