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It's interesting to contrast the world of when this book was written, and when I encountered it -- where one had to search for opportunities to see movies like these at museums and revival houses -- with the situation today when just about all are easily available on dvd, streaming and other sources.
Quotes in the descriptions are from the book.
I'll be adding more quotes and comments.
12 Angry Men (1957)
A Contrarian View
I've always have had problems with this movie. Seeing it listed so highly made me re-watch it and give it another assessment. It has never struck me as a "movie". It's a closed set drama of twelve men talking in a closed room. That presents a pretty high bar to get over to turn it into a movie. Unfortunately it doesn't even seem to try to get over it.
This movie is a turd sitting there. A highly polished sincere turd, but a turd nonetheless.
First the setup. A young man is on trial for murdering his father, stabbing him with a switchblade, apparently as a result of an argument. From statements in the movie, it seems that he is a member of a despised, slum-dwelling minority. The boy is shown to be dark but 'white'. The actor who plays the juror that is his compatriot is Jack Klugman, of Russian Jewish heritage. Was an audience meant to take seriously, even in the '50s that assimilated Jews were on such a low social rung? Were they meant to be some other swarthy European? Italian, Greek, perhaps? To me the only folks likely to be identified that way in '50s NY would be blacks or Puerto Ricans. I know that Hollywood at the time had a real problem casting actors of color, but this whitewashing takes me out of any willing suspension of disbelief.
Then the jurors themselves. They almost all seem one dimensional tropes. Let's go in order:
1) The foreman, a High School Football coach. Just trying to keep the process rolling, without a high degree of insight into the issues.
2) The mousy accountant. Not assertive or expecting to be listened to if he did assert himself.
3) Likely the most interesting, a self-made business man, who has issues with a man needing to be 'manly'; assertive to the point of bullying. He has a failed relationship with his own son that is the key to his behavior on the jury.
4) A stockbroker. A bland technocrat who never sweats. He seems almost the post-war Nazi stereotype of 'only following orders'.
5) The representative of the under-class. So scared of appearing to favor 'one of his own kind', that he compensates by going with the prevailing social order.
6) The common man. At Passover he'd be the son that 'knows not how to ask'.
7) The salesman. Approaches this as a sales pitch, and wants to get it over with to be able to get to tonight's Yankees game.
8) Our beloved identification figure. Wants to avoid the rush to judgment. An architect he (possibly along with his antithesis the stockbroker) is the best educated and well spoken of the bunch. Literally 'the man in the white suit'. Congratulations to you Mr. audience member for smugly identifying with him.
9) The old man. Given to pearls of insight that derive from his experience and wisdom.
10) The racist. Even if the kid isn't guilty, his kind are troublemakers and deserve what they get.
11) The good immigrant. A watchmaker, quiet, polite, well spoken.
12) The ad man. Got to have one of these in any '50s NY set story. Send his gray flannel suit up the flag pole and see if anyone salutes it.
Are any of these, with the possible exception of #3, real human beings?
The argument. The bulk of this exercise is the destruction, point by point of the prosecution's case. A highlight is when #8 presents the jury with a duplicate of the supposedly unique murder weapon, a similar one which was purchased by the by the young man. I'm not a student of the law, but I can't believe that such a introduction of such evidence into jury deliberations is acceptable procedure. Also, although the prosecution's case is sufficiently demolished to introduce the reasonable doubt necessary for an acquittal, never is a plausible alternate scenario is never offered. Why did some intruder enter the murdered man's apartment and kill him? Robbery? Never suggested. Another gang-banger looking for the son? Why was the man stabbed in a non-experienced way? Why is the murder weapon clean of fingerprints?
So, well acted, competently shot, but to my mind a failed drama, and still a non-movie.
Finally, with over 900 member reviews I expect that this will be buried. And, why do we need a spoiler tag on a nearly sixty year old movie?
The White Shadow (1924)
No sign of Hitchcock, and bad irrespective of that
Much has been made recently about this film due to the recent rediscovery and restoration of a partial print, and the fact that the young Alfred Hitchcock was the AD.
Don't cry if you don't get around to seeing it. Betty Compsom came to England to make 'Woman to Woman' for Cutts. This was a success and 'The White Shadow' was hurriedly made to capitalize on this before her return to America. Even at the time, it was not well received. It's a shame that this rather than 'Woman to Woman' survived; it might have had more to show us.
The attractive, flirtatious 'Nancy' (Compson) meets Robin (Clive Brook -- looking far too old for her) on her return home to the Devon countryside from Paris. From here we proceed to what Roger Ebert calls the 'idiot plot' -- the whole movie would disappear if everyone didn't act like idiots. Robin meets Nancy at her estate and they kiss. The next day Nancy sends her mopey, serious twin sister Georgina (Compson again) to meet Robin in her place. Georgina rejects him. Nancy, bored runs away from home, mom dies, alcoholic dad wanders off, Georgina moves to London to try to find Nancy. Robin meets Georgina thinking her to be Nancy -- he doesn't know that there are two of them -- and falls for her, though thinking that she isn't quite the same as the carefree, flirtatious Nancy he first met. It goes on like this, with some unintentionally funny scenes, but I won't.
Wonderful dark comedy
I just watched this again for the first time in many years. I had recalled what a twisted dark comedy this was, but I did not remember it in sufficient detail how it came to be that way.
It has a wonderful, almost prototypical, '70s comedy cast but I don't think that the secret lies there. I really think that it comes from the writing and direction. There is an ambiguity and ellipticality to just about every sequence. As a viewer you are never sure quite what anything means and quite what was important in what you have just seen. But later, if you have been observant, little things start to come together in disturbing patterns.
An example without getting spoilerish -- early on James Caan is thrown out of a ride that he has hitched because the driver has decided that he is a useless slacker (in reality the character hasn't had a chance to do anything useful as he's just been released from prison). The landscape is reminiscent of the stubble field of the airplane chase in 'North by Northwest'. However, there is an emergency phone with an attractive young woman (Sally Kellerman) in a stalled station wagon right there. She is on the phone asking for help, and seeing Caan asks him to help, which he does. Just then a cop pulls up (directed by the call?) asks if she needs assistance. She answers no. The cop tries to ascertain who owns and is driving the car. Upon finding out that it is her, and noting her increasingly erratic behavior, he tells her that Caan has to drive, as she's barefoot. Is the cop trying to hassle them, or is just trying to get them safely on their way and away from him when she is clearly not fully there? Shortly thereafter Caan asks her what she is up on, she answers that she had a glass of wine with a salami sandwich. It's pretty clear that alcohol is _not_ her intoxicant of choice. Later we see her popping unidentified pills several times.
Watch for patterns and reappearances, some of them are quite subtle.
I've got to give a shout out to my local video store which had a VHS copy (1990) on the shelf. This isn't available on DVD.