Watch this scene and tell me what it reminds you of:
It’s amazing how a film from 1957 makes me immediately think of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. This is one of the finest scenes in cinema history because it elegantly showcases how terrible racists actually are by just letting one rant. Sadly, because of the names I just listed, it feels like we have more Ed Begley’s in our jurors than Henry Fonda’s now a days.
This is a great “bottle” movie in that this all takes place in one setting and we only have this cast of characters. For his first film Sidney Lumet certainly had his work cut out for him. It might seem like an easy film to direct because of the one setting. But how do you keep making things interesting after the first few minutes? Well one technique Lumet uses is to showcase the tension of the room by tightening up the frame. At first we get a wide view of the room they’re in but eventually we are down to close ups or two-shots of characters and the room essentially disappears. It racks up the tension as Fonda tries to find more ways to prove how innocent this kid is.
It also helps for Lumet to have such a great cast by his side. Henry Fonda is always great as a ‘good ol’ boy’ and his passion certainly shines throughout. But Lee J. Cobb almost steals the film as an angry Father and boy does his blood boil a lot in this. As mentioned earlier Ed Begley as the racist juror is also very good and his speech, while awful in tone, is delivered very well. Finally, Jack Klugman also as a man who suffered from the slums gives us a good example of why not everyone who has to live in one is the stereotypical person most people think about them.
I saw this film a long time ago in school and it is pretty disheartening to know most don’t show it today. Okay, maybe this is a dry film to a little kid. But this still perfectly showcases the evils of racism and how you can make a difference if you are one man. Hell, I hope college professors show this to today’s generation about to enter the world especially with the shit going on the last few years. If you see this article and haven’t done so already I urge anyone to find a copy of this film (whether online, streaming, or DVD) and go out and watch it as a family. It’ll change the way you think about the world even if its in a 1957 mentality.