12 Angry Men (1957)
A jury holdout attempts to prevent a miscarriage of justice by forcing his colleagues to reconsider the evidence.
The defense and the prosecution have rested and the jury is filing into the jury room to decide if a young man is guilty or innocent of murdering his father. What begins as an open-and-shut case of murder soon becomes a detective story that presents a succession of clues creating doubt, and a mini-drama of each of the jurors' prejudices and preconceptions about the trial, the accused, and each other. Based on the play, all of the action takes place on the stage of the jury room.
When a young Puerto Rican boy is on trial for the alleged murder of his father, 11 of the 12 jurors are quick to vote that he is guilty in an ostensibly straightforward case. The remaining juror, Juror #8, seems skeptical about the evidence at hand and demands a thorough deliberation of the facts from each juror before sentencing the boy to death, to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
"12 Angry Men" focuses on a jury's deliberations in a capital murder case. A 12-man jury is sent to begin deliberations in the first-degree murder trial of an 18-year-old man accused in the stabbing death of his father, where a guilty verdict means an automatic death sentence. The case appears to be open-and-shut: The defendant has a weak alibi; a knife he claimed to have lost is found at the murder scene; and several witnesses either heard screaming, saw the killing or the boy fleeing the scene. Eleven of the jurors immediately vote guilty; only Juror No. 8 (Mr. Davis) casts a not guilty vote. At first Mr. Davis bases his vote more so for the sake of discussion; after all, the jurors must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. As the deliberations unfold, the story quickly becomes a study of the jurors' complex personalities (which range from wise, bright and empathetic to arrogant, prejudiced and merciless), preconceptions, backgrounds and interactions. That provides the backdrop to Mr. Davis' attempts in convincing the other jurors that a "not guilty" verdict might be appropriate.
- In a New York City courthouse, an eighteen-year-old boy from a slum is on trial for allegedly stabbing his father to death. Final closing arguments having been presented, a visibly bored judge instructs the jury to decide whether the boy is guilty of murder. If there is any reasonable doubt of his guilt they are to return a verdict of not guilty. The judge further informs them that a guilty verdict will be accompanied by a mandatory death sentence.
The jury retires to a private room, where the jurors spend a short while getting acquainted before they begin deliberating. It is immediately apparent that the jurors have already decided that the boy is guilty, and that they plan to return their verdict without taking time for discussion with the sole exception of Juror 8 (Henry Fonda), who is the only "not guilty" vote in a preliminary tally. He explains that there is too much at stake for him to go along with the verdict without at least talking about it first. His vote annoys the other jurors, especially Juror 7 (Jack Warden), who has tickets to a baseball game that evening; and Juror 10 (Ed Begley Sr.), who believes that people from slum backgrounds are liars, wild, and dangerous.
The rest of the film's focus is the jury's difficulty in reaching a unanimous verdict. While several of the jurors harbor personal prejudices, Juror 8 maintains that the evidence presented in the case is circumstantial, and that the boy deserves a fair deliberation. He calls into question the accuracy and reliability of the only two witnesses to the murder, the "rarity" of the murder weapon (a common switchblade, of which he has an identical copy), and the overall questionable circumstances. He further argues that he cannot in good conscience vote "guilty" when he feels there is reasonable doubt of the boy's guilt.
Having argued several points and gotten no favorable response from the others, Juror 8 reluctantly agrees that he has only succeeded in hanging the jury. Instead, he requests another vote, this time by secret ballot. He proposes that he will abstain from voting, and if the other 11 jurors are still unanimous in a guilty vote, then he will acquiesce to their decision. The secret ballot is held, and a new "not guilty" vote appears. This earns intense criticism from Juror 3 (Lee J. Cobb), who blatantly accuses Juror 5 (Jack Klugman) who had grown up in a slum of switching out of sympathy toward slum children. However, Juror 9 (Joseph Sweeney) reveals that he himself changed his vote, feeling that Juror 8's points deserve further discussion.
Juror 8 presents a convincing argument that one of the witnesses, an elderly man who claimed to have heard the boy yell "I'm going to kill you" shortly before the murder took place, could not have heard the voices as clearly as he had testified due to an elevated train passing by at the time; as well as stating that "I'm going to kill you," is often said by people who do not literally mean it. Juror 5 changes his vote to "not guilty". Soon afterward, Juror 11 (George Voskovec) questions whether it is reasonable to suppose the defendant would have fled the scene, having cleaned the knife of fingerprints but leaving it behind, and then come back three hours later to retrieve it (having been left in his father's chest). Juror 11 then changes his vote.
Juror 8 then mentions the man's second claim: upon hearing the father's body hit the floor, he had run to the door of his apartment and seen the defendant running out of the building from his front door in 15 seconds. Jurors 5, 6 and 8 question whether this is true, as the witness in question had had a stroke, limiting his ability to walk. Upon the end of an experiment, the jury finds that the witness would not have made it to the door in enough time to actually see the killer running out. Juror 8 concludes that, judging from what he claims to have heard earlier, the witness must have merely assumed it was the defendant running. Juror 3, growing more irritated throughout the process, explodes in a rant: "He's got to burn! He's slipping through our fingers!" Juror 8 takes him to task, calling him a "self-appointed public avenger" and a sadist, saying he wants the defendant to die because of personal desire rather than the facts. Juror 3 shouts "I'll kill him!" and starts lunging at Juror 8, but is restrained by Jurors 5 and 7. Juror 8 calmly retorts, "You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?", proving his previous point.
Jurors 2 (John Fiedler) and 6 (Edward Binns) also decide to vote "not guilty", tying the vote at 6-6. Soon after, a rainstorm hits the city, threatening to cancel the baseball game for which Juror 7 has tickets.
Juror 4 (E.G. Marshall) continues to state that he does not believe the boy's alibi, which was being at the movies with a few friends at the time of the murder, because the boy could not remember what movie he had seen when questioned by police shortly after the murder. Juror 8 explains that being under emotional stress can make you forget certain things, and tests how well Juror 4 can remember the events of previous days. Juror 4 remembers, with some difficulty, the events of the previous five days, and Juror 8 points out that he had not been under emotional stress at that time, thus there was no reason to think the boy should be able to remember the particulars of the movie that he claimed to have seen.
Juror 2 calls into question the prosecution's claim that the accused, who was 5'7" tall, was able to inflict the downward stab wound found on his father, who was 6'2". Jurors 3 and 8 conduct an experiment to see if it's possible for a shorter person to stab downward into a taller person. The experiment proves the possibility, but Juror 5 then explains that he had grown up amidst knife fights in his neighborhood, and shows, through demonstrating the correct use of a switchblade, that no one so much shorter than his opponent would have held a switchblade in such a way as to stab downward, as the grip would have been too awkward and the act of changing hands too time-consuming. Rather, someone that much shorter than his opponent would stab underhanded at an upwards angle. This revelation augments the certainty of several of the jurors in their belief that the defendant is not guilty.
Increasingly impatient, Juror 7 changes his vote just so that the deliberation may end, which earns him the ire of Jurors 3 and 11, both on opposite sides of the discussion. Juror 11, an immigrant who has repeatedly displayed strong patriotic pride, presses Juror 7 hard about using his vote frivolously, and eventually Juror 7 admits that he now truly believes the defendant is not guilty.
The next jurors to change their votes are Jurors 12 (Robert Webber) and the Jury Foreman (Martin Balsam), making the vote 9-3 and leaving only three dissenters: Jurors 3, 4 and 10. Outraged at how the proceedings have gone, Juror 10 goes into a rage on why people from the slums cannot be trusted, of how they are little better than animals who gleefully kill each other off for fun. His speech offends Juror 5, who turns his back to him, and one by one the rest of the jurors start turning away from him. Confused and disturbed by this reaction to his diatribe, Juror 10 continues in a steadily fading voice and manner, slowing to a stop with "Listen to me. Listen..." Juror 4, the only man still facing him, tersely responds, "I have. Now sit down and don't open your mouth again." As Juror 10 moves to sit in a corner by himself, Juror 8 speaks quietly about the evils of prejudice, and the other jurors slowly resume their seats.
When those remaining in favor of a guilty vote are pressed as to why they still maintain that there is no reasonable doubt, Juror 4 states his belief that despite all the other evidence that has been called into question, the fact remains that the woman who saw the murder from her bedroom window across the street (through the passing train) still stands as solid evidence. After he points this out, Juror 12 changes his vote back to "guilty", making the vote 8-4.
Then Juror 9, after seeing Juror 4 rub his nose (which is being irritated by his eye glasses), realizes that, like Juror 4, the woman who allegedly saw the murder had impressions in the sides of her nose which she rubbed, indicating that she wore glasses, but did not wear them to court out of vanity. Juror 8 cannily asks Juror 4 if he wears his eyeglasses to sleep, and Juror 4 admits that he does not wear them nobody does. Juror 8 explains that there was thus no logical reason to expect that the witness happened to be wearing her glasses while trying to sleep, and he points out that on her own evidence the attack happened so swiftly that she would not have had time to put them on. After he points this out, Jurors 12, 10 and 4 all change their vote to "not guilty".
At this point, the only remaining juror with a guilty vote is Juror 3. Juror 3 gives a long and increasingly tortured string of arguments, ending with, "Rotten kids, you work your life out!" This builds on a more emotionally ambivalent earlier revelation that his relationship with his own son is deeply strained, and his anger over this fact is the main reason that he wants the defendant to be guilty. Juror 3 finally loses his temper and tears up a photo of himself and his son, then suddenly breaks down crying and changes his vote to "not guilty", making the vote unanimous.
As the jurors leave the room, Juror 8 helps the distraught Juror 3 with his coat in a show of compassion. The film ends when the friendly Jurors 8 (Mr. Davis) and 9 (Mr. McCardle) exchange names, and all of the jurors descend the courthouse steps to return to their individual lives... never to see each other again.
(Note: there is no indication nor is the question ever answered if the teenage boy really is guilty or not; instead the film makes it clear that this is outside of the question if the jurors cannot be certain that he is guilty, if there is any reasonable doubt, they must acquit him.)