The Story (continued)
12 Angry Men (1957)
Discussion of the Defendant's Alibi:
The issue of the defendant's "only alibi" on the night of his father's murder is revisited - the boy was allegedly at a theatre, but he could not remember the names of the movies he saw or the stars that appeared in them on the night of the murder.
Counter-argument: Juror # 8 asks if Juror # 5 could remember similar small details, especially after an "upsetting experience such as being slapped in the face by your father" or after an incident of "great emotional stress"? Under relentless questioning, the smug, rationalistic Juror # 5 fails to remember the exact title of the inexpensive second-feature (and the names of its stars) that he saw with his wife three nights earlier. Contrary to his statement that he never sweats, he also has to wipe a drop of sweat from his head with a handkerchief. Juror # 8 underscores the obvious:
And you weren't under an emotional stress, were you?
Discussion of the Angle of the Stab Wound:
Juror # 2 asks about the stab wound and its "downward angle." The boy was five feet, seven inches tall, and his father was six feet, two inches tall - a difference of seven inches, so he notes: "That's a very awkward thing to stab down into the chest of someone who is more than half a foot taller than you are." Juror # 8 is volunteered to be the victim in a demonstration, since he is already standing up. Juror # 3 stands face to face with # 8, crouches down until he is shorter, and then raises the knife to strike downward into his chest - while the others nervously react. According to # 8, the angle is "down and in - this is the way it was done."
Counter-argument: But Juror # 5, who has had experience with switchblade knife fights in his childhood neighborhood, corrects everyone's notion of the downward angle. The switchblade is used "underhanded" to save time by any expert knife user - "Anyone who's ever used a switchknife wouldn't handle it any other way."
Vote of 5 to 7:
Suddenly, Juror # 7 non-chalantly switches his vote to not-guilty because he's "sick of all the talking" - but really to facilitate the proceedings so that there can be a unanimous verdict and he can be dismissed to attend the ball game: "You've heard me. I've had enough." Juror # 11 is deeply offended by the man's light-heartedness: "Who tells you that you have the right to play like this with a man's life? Don't you care...Don't you have the guts to do what you think is right?"
Vote of 3 to 9:
Another show of hands - each disembodied - reveals that Juror # 12 has switched his allegiance, along with the Foreman. Only Jurors # 3, 4, and #10 are hold-outs for guilty. As Juror # 10 again criticizes minorities in a hateful tirade, one by one, other jurors rise and literally turn their backs on his personally racist attitudes. Eventually, he is left standing and babbling in the middle of the room:
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...They don't know what the truth is. And let me tell ya, they don't need any real big reason to kill someone either. No, sir. They get drunk. Ah, they're real big drinkers, all of 'em. You know that. And bang, someone's lying in the gutter. Well, nobody's blamin' 'em for it, that's the way they are, by nature, you know what I mean? Violent!...Human life don't mean as much to them as it does to us. Look, they'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. I've known a couple who are okay, but that's the exception, you know what I mean? Most of them, it's like they have no feelings. They can do anything. What's going on here? I'm tryin' to tell ya. You're making a big mistake, you people. This kid is a liar. I know it. I know all about them. Listen to me, they're no good. There's not a one of 'em who's any good....This kid on trial here...well, don't you know about them? There's a danger here. These people are dangerous. They're wild. Listen. Listen to me.
Juror # 4 silences him for good: "Now sit down and don't open your mouth again." Eventually, everyone moves back to their seats. Juror # 8 speaks about the incomprehensibility of the truth:
I don't really know what the truth is. I don't suppose anybody will ever really know. Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent, but we're just gambling on probabilities. We may be wrong. We may be trying to let a guilty man go free, I don't know. Nobody really can, but we have a reasonable doubt and that's something that's very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it's sure. We nine can't understand how you three are still so sure.
Discussion of the Old Woman's Eye-Witness Account and Eye-sight:
There's only one major issue - the "unshakable testimony" given by the woman who lived across the street who actually saw the murder committed. According to Juror # 4, she testified that at the critical moment, she saw the boy raise his arm over his head and stab down into the father's chest. She went to bed at eleven o'clock that night, and her bed was next to an open window where she could look out while lying down and see directly into the boy's room across the street. She tossed and turned for over an hour - unable to fall asleep. Finally, she turned toward the window at about 12:10 am and as she looked out, she "got a good look" at the boy in the act of stabbing his father, through the windows of the passing el train. Vacillating back and forth "like a tennis ball" on his opinion, Juror # 12 changes his vote back to guilty.
Counter-argument: Juror # 9 notices that Juror # 4 is rubbing the deep indented marks or impressions on the sides of his nose where his glasses rest. Juror # 9 remembers that the forty-five year-old woman who testified against the boy had the same marks on the sides of her nose - and she kept rubbing them in court. She made a "tremendous effort" to look ten years younger "for her first public appearance" with "heavy makeup, dyed hair, brand new clothes" - and she wasn't wearing her glasses because she thought they would "spoil her looks." Juror # 4 deduces that it's logical to assume that "no one wears eyeglasses to bed" - and so it was highly unlikely that the woman could have had time to put on her glasses to see the murder sixty feet away, in the split second it occurred through the cars of the passing el train - and in the middle of the night. Juror # 8 concludes: "Maybe she honestly thought she saw the boy kill his father. I say she only saw a blur...Don't you think the woman might have made a mistake?"
Vote of 1 to 11:
Juror # 12 is easily convinced to change his vote back again to not-guilty. Juror # 10 agrees with the majority, as does the stockbroker Juror # 4 "with a reasonable doubt". Only one desperate juror, # 3, is left alone to vote guilty, and he is pressed to argue his beliefs by # 8: "We're not convinced - we want to hear them again". Juror # 3 pleads that they must believe what was testified under oath in court:
Every single thing that took place in that courtroom...says he's guilty. Whaddya think - I'm an idiot or somethin'? Why don't you take that stuff about the old man, the old man who lived there and heard everything. Oh, and this business about the knife - why, because we found another one exactly like it? The old man saw him, right there on the stairs. What's the difference how many seconds it was? Every single thing. The knife fallin' through a hole in his pocket. You can't prove he didn't get to the door. Sure you can take all the time huddled around the room, but YOU CAN'T PROVE IT! And what about this business with the el? And the movies? There's a phony deal if I ever heard one. I'll betcha five thousand dollars I'd remember the movies I saw. I'm tellin' ya, everything that's gone on has been twisted - and turned. This business with the glasses. How do you know she didn't have 'em on? This woman testified in open court. And what about hearin' the kid yell? Huh? I'm tellin' ya, I've got all the facts here, here.
As he pulls out his wallet to show them "facts," out flies a picture of him with his son. He threatens everyone ("you lousy bunch of bleedin' hearts") that he will not be intimidated: "You're not gonna intimidate me. I'm entitled to my opinion." He glances at the picture, painfully rages at his own family's relationships and his own sense of guilt, and tears the photograph to shreds:
Rotten kids, you work your life out!
Broken and contrite, Juror # 3 sobs into his contorted fist: "Not guilty. Not guilty."
The door is unlocked and the jurors slowly move out of the conference room after reaching a unanimous decision of not guilty. Juror # 8 reconciles himself with Juror # 3 by taking his coat from the closet and helping him put it on. The camera pans along the conference table, strewn with the ad man's doodles, cigarette-laden ashtrays, picture scraps, discarded newspapers, the second switchblade knife, and a wad of paper.
Outside in a brief epilogue, Juror # 9 formally asks Juror # 8's name before they walk out onto the rain-slickened steps and sidewalk in front of the courtroom:
Juror # 9: What's your name?
Juror # 8: Davis.
Juror # 9: My name's McCardle. Well, so long.
Juror # 8: So long.
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AMC Filmcritic's Review of 12 Angry Men