Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, Robert Webber|
|Producer:||Orion-Nova Productions, Henry Fonda, George Justin, Reginald Rose|
United Artists Releasing, a subsidiary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
“Life Is In Their Hands—Death Is On Their Minds!”
This film underscores the meaning of the American justice system, in which reasonable doubt should result in acquittal. I haven’t seen the 1997 remake, but this original is so well done that I’m sure no other version is better. Also, the original does not present the problem with foul language that the remake apparently does; the jury room tension is created through excellent acting alone.
A Puerto Rican youth is accused of knifing his father to death, and the trial testimony seems to present an open-and-shut case; the all white male jury can take a serious second look at everything, or they can just vote guilty and go home the same day. One juror even explains that he’d like to get out in time to go to a ball game. But Henry Fonda’s character votes Not Guilty on the first ballot, and explains that he thinks the responsibility to decide the fate of a man’s life should at least merit a thorough review of the evidence. As he shows the fallacies in some of that evidence and begins to sway others, we begin to understand the background and agenda of each juror through the arguments they voice.
The jury room is the setting for nearly the entire film. There’s no violence. Of course there’s a lot of strong difference of opinion; that’s what a jury is supposed to have. There are some veiled racist references to “those kind of people.” My judgment is that although small children would not be interested in the story, it’s a family film in the sense that it could be watched while children of any age were in the room or in earshot. It’s definitely worthwhile; entertaining and a thought-provoker as well.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.