Episode 10

Twelve Angry Men (1957)


12 Angry Men, directed by Sidney Lumet, is one of the major milestones of film history. It dates back to 1957 and tells the story of a jury, the twelve angry men of the title, and how they decide on the innocence or guilt of a young boy accused of murder. The entire film takes place in the jury room, with the exception of a few scenes, namely those in the courthouse and in the bathroom.

The protagonists are not known by their names but only by their jury numbers, with the exception of two characters who introduce themselves to each other only during the final scene. Gradually, the characteristics of the jurors are revealed during the discussion in the jury room. The main character is played by Henry Fonda: he is juror number 8, an architect, who is the only one voting “not guilty” from the very beginning. Juror number 3, played by Lee J. Cobb, is considered the main antagonist of the drama. He appears to be rather frustrated and irascible throughout the discussion, where issues with his own son emerge. The other actors are as follows: Martin Balsam (juror number 1, the foreman who deals with organising the voting), John Fiedler (juror number 2, a quiet bank clerk), E.G. Marshall (juror number 4, a stock broker), Jack Klugman (juror number 5, who spent his childhood in a slum), Edward Binns (juror number 6, a house painter), Jack Warden (juror number 7, a salesman who is interested in leaving early to see the match), Joseph Sweeney (juror number 8, a pensioner), Ed Begley (juror number 10, a garage owner), George Voskovec (juror number 11, a watchmaker from Europe), Robert Webber (juror number 12 who works in advertising).

The film starts with the scene in the courthouse, where the judge presents the jury with their duty and then we follow the jurors to the jury room. They decide to do a preliminary voting and only one juror votes “not guilty”. So, they decide that the other 11 should explain their reasoning, in order to reach a unanimous verdict. The discussion, therefore, takes off and gradually one step at a time each aspect is examined. The other jurors start changing their vote, one at a time, until they reach the verdict of “non guilty”.

The film was originally based on a teleplay with the same title by Reginald Rose, broadcast in 1954. It received excellent reviews from critics, despite poor ratings at the box office. It has also been listed among the greatest movies of the 20th century and the 42nd most inspiring film by AFI. It was nominated for the Academy Awards of best director, best picture and best writing of adapted screenplay. It also won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International film festival.

12 Angry Men is interesting for organizational theory for the many themes which are intertwined with each other within the story and the unfolding of the discussion. Among these, first of all, there is a general topic of decision making and consensus building with regard to the ways in which the jury’s final verdict is reached. During the discussion, there are different opportunities in which aspects related to leadership emerge within the group. Interestingly, when referring to the jurors’ and the witnesses’ sense of responsibility, we can relate to topics of motivation. Finally, there are occasions for reflections on the validity of evidence, on the construction of knowledge and on the notion of reasonable doubt.

Please join us for Episode 10, where we shall discuss the film and the aspects related to our previous readings and to organizational theory in general!


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