At the beginning of the film, the cameras are all positioned above eye level and mounted with wide-angle lenses to give the appearance of greater distance between the subjects. As the film progresses the cameras slip down to eye level. By the end of the film, nearly all of it is shot below eye level, in close-up and with telephoto lenses to increase the encroaching sense of claustrophobia.
Sidney Lumet had the actors all stay in the same room for hours on end and do their lines over and over without taping them. This was to give them a real taste of what it would be like to be cooped up in a room with the same people.
The ethnic background of the teenaged suspect was deliberately left unstated. For the purposes of the film, the important facts were that he was NOT Caucasian and that prejudice (or lack of it) from some jurors would be a major part of the deliberation process.
Henry Fonda disliked watching himself on film, so he did not watch the whole film in the projection room. However, before he walked out he said quietly to director Sidney Lumet, "Sidney, it's magnificent."
Because the film failed to make a profit, Henry Fonda never received his deferred salary. Despite this setback, he always regarded this film as one of the three best he ever made, the other two being The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and The Ox-Bow Incident (1943).
Henry Fonda immediately complained to Sidney Lumet about the cheap backdrops outside the jury room windows when he walked on set. "They look like shit. Hitch had great backdrops, you could walk right in them," said Fonda, referring to the previous film he made with Alfred Hitchcock, The Wrong Man (1956). Lumet assured him that director of photography Boris Kaufman had a plan to make them work.
When Juror #10 concludes his ethnic-centered rant in which all other jurors leave the table or notably disagree with him, he is told to sit down and not talk again. Indeed, from that moment until the end of the film he utters not a single word more, not even when asked to give his vote (to which he responds by shaking his head).
Because of the demands of the film's low budget, if the lighting was set up for a shot that took place from one particular angle, all the shots from that same angle had to be filmed then and there. This meant that different sides of the same conversation were sometimes shot several weeks apart.
Only two jurors are ever identified by name: #8 Mr. Davis and #9 Mr. McCardle. All but two are identified by job or profession: #1 High School Football Coach, #2 Bank Teller, #3 Owns Messenger Service, #4 Stock Broker, #6 Painter, #7 Salesman, #8 Architect, #10 Garage Owner, #11 Watch Maker, and #12 Advertising Exec.
The movies mentioned by Juror #4 in the double feature he saw are "The Scarlett Circle" and "The Amazing Mrs. Bainbridge" (wrongly named by him as "The Remarkable Mrs. Bainbridge"). Neither of them exist.
For many years, only the first half of the kinescope of the TV version of "Twelve Angry Men" broadcast live on Sept. 20, 1954 (Studio One in Hollywood: Twelve Angry Men (1954)) was thought to survive, and had been in the possession of the Museum of Television and Radio since 1976. In 2003 a complete 16mm kinescope was discovered in the collection of Samuel Leibowitz (former defense attorney and judge) and was also acquired by the museum.
When John Calley was running United Artists from 1993-96, he gave an interview to "The New Yorker" in which he discussed UA's continuing rights to the project, and said he had looked into a possible remake that would have starred Michelle Pfeiffer and been set around the 1992 Los Angeles riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King incident trial verdicts.
Most of the hard-working (relatively inexperienced) crew were longshoremen. Because there wasn't enough movie work to feed them all year, they'd have two union cards: their Local 52 cards and their ILA cards.
According to his autobiography, Henry Fonda was disappointed with United Artists' distribution strategy and felt that the studio's approach had deprived the film of a chance at financial success. In particular, Fonda noted that United Artists placed it in theaters too large for a "small" film to fill and, in addition, did not rerelease it after it won numerous awards.
Speaking at a screening of the film during the 2010 Fordham University Law School Film festival, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that seeing the film while she was in college influenced her decision to pursue a career in law. She was particularly inspired by immigrant Juror #11's monologue on his reverence for the American justice system. She also told the audience of law students that, as a lower-court judge, she would sometimes instruct juries to not follow the film's example, because most of the jurors' conclusions are based on speculation, not fact. Sotomayor noted that events such as Juror #8 entering a similar knife into the proceeding, doing outside research into the case matter in the first place and ultimately the jury as a whole making broad, wide-ranging assumptions far beyond the scope of reasonable doubt (such as the inferences regarding the "Old Woman" wearing glasses) would never be allowed to occur in a real-life jury situation, and would in fact have resulted in a mistrial (assuming, of course, that applicable law permitted the content of jury deliberations to be revealed).
The State Bar Associations of all (at that time) 48 states were given preview showings of the picture prior to its press previews. Subsequent to the film's release, the American Bar Association honored the film for "contributing to greater public understanding and appreciation of the American system of justice."
Jack Lemmon appears in Mister Roberts (1955) with Henry Fonda, in which he takes over Fonda's position of Cargo Officer when Fonda is transferred off the USS Reluctant. In the 1997 remake 12 Angry Men (1997), Lemmon plays the same juror that Fonda played in this film.
The story could have been set in any large city, although it's not mentioned by name, the city is obviously New York City, as evidenced by the sighting of the Woolworth Building, the Yankee tickets held by Juror #7 and the steps of the County Courthouse shown in the closing scene.
In 1981 a Norwegian version of the film was made by NRK fjernsynsteatret (Norsk RikskringKasting) and broadcast in 1982 and called Tolv edsvorne menn (1982). The plot closely follows the American movie version.
As of 2016 this is, the shortest movie in the IMDbtop 10, as well as the only movie in the top 10 to be under two hours in length. It is also the only movie in the IMDb top 30 to be under 100 minutes in length (the next film to have a two-digit run time is City Lights (1931) at #35).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The jurors entrance into the jury room is filmed in an overhead establishing shot, and the shots become progressively lower and tighter throughout the film, until the verdict is reached. For the closing shot of the jurors leaving the courthouse they are again filmed from a wide, overhead angle. Sidney Lumet claimed that the final shot was filmed through with the widest lens used in the picture, emphasizing the sense of release from the jury room.
Along the movie, number 3 appears several times: the three first minutes of the movie are the only ones not happened in the jury room; the court room where the trial happens is the 228 (2+2+8 = 12; 1+2 = 3); Juror #8 affirms to have three children; at a point Juror #7 orders shut up to other juror under the pretext that as jurors they have a salary of three dollars per day; in other point Juror 6# comments that he was three days painting a house; Juror #4 explains that between the crime happened three months before the trial; and finally Juror #3 is who confronts Juror #8 against the innocence of the accused along the movie.