E1 Entertainment // 1954 // 50 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 9th, 2010
"There's so much evidence that can throw off all the other evidence!"
Have you ever seen the original Twelve Angry Men? Believe it or not, I'm not talking about the Henry Fonda movie directed by Sidney Lumet. Twelve Angry Men actually originated not as a prestigious feature film but rather as a 50-minute teleplay written by Reginald Rose. Aired in 1954 as a live Studio One broadcast, Twelve Angry Men tells the story of 12 white male jurors deliberating the guilt or innocence of a young man who allegedly murdered his father. As deliberations begin, 11 jurors are convinced that the young man is guilty. One juror (Robert Cummings) feels otherwise. The debate begins. As time passes, some minds begin to change. Which side will win out in the end?
Watching this version of the story was sort of challenging for me, as I imagine it will be for most viewers who have seen well-known theatrical version. Lumet's Twelve Angry Men is a genuine classic; an impassioned drama that still resonates despite the inclusion of quite a few dated elements. It's going to be next to impossible for a 50-minute live television version to stack up; by the same token those 50 minutes must have been impressive enough to convince someone the story would make a good feature film. So they are. This little slice of classic television is reasonably well-acted, well-directed and thought-provoking. Even so, one just can't shake the urge to compare it to the theatrical version. As such, one just can't shake the feeling that the television version is inferior.
I sort of feel bad for saying that, since I realize that this version came first and that it's being presented in a much more restrictive format. But given that such a superior version does exist (and if you watch this, you've almost certainly seen that version), perhaps it's best to regard to original Twelve Angry Men as an important piece of television history rather than as a satisfying standalone drama. It's somewhat compelling to spot seeds of ideas that would later bloom in the feature film, to observe ways in which characters changed (or didn't) from one version to the other.
At the time, not many members of the cast or crew were regarded as particularly noteworthy, but the credentials of the production are very impressive in retrospect. Norman Fell (who would go on to have a long, active career in television and film) makes one of his first appearances as Juror #1, while Robert Cummings proves to be steady and persuasive as the doubtful Juror #8 (the role Fonda would later play). The teleplay was directed by a young Franklin J. Schaffner, who would later go on to helm such noted films as Planet of the Apes and Patton. It was also one of the earlier teleplays written by Reginald Rose, who never quite managed to eclipse the achievement of writing and producing the cinematic version but who stayed active in Hollywood for many years afterwards.
Alas, the teleplay is made nearly unwatchable due to the absolutely wretched audio and video quality. Just about every video problem imaginable is present in this film, with loads of scratches, flecks and smudges all over everything. Certain frames seem horribly damaged and detail is nothing short of horrible. In longer shots, it's almost impossible to make out who's who. Audio is even worse, with awful hissing and crackling present throughout the entire production. Dialogue is tinny and distorted. Ugh. The only extra on the disc is another Studio One episode penned by Reginald Rose, entitled An Almanac of Liberty. It's a reasonably compelling watch, if a bit too earnest at times. Alas, it suffers from the same audio/video problems. There's also a booklet included with the DVD that offers some thoughts on Twelve Angry Men from the late Rose and some various production info.
Diehard film and television buffs will undoubtedly appreciate the opportunity to check out this lost treasure, but the audio and video is far too awful for me to recommend a purchase.
Not guilty, but the jury is still angry.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 50 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episode