The other night I watched an old movie, as in 50+ years old. Even as a film fanatic, I don’t enjoy many older pictures. Also, I love the way guys from the Golden Age of film called them “pictures”. What I don’t like is the acting styles. That Edward G Robinson/Humphrey Bogart syncopation to the dialogue that comes off like it’s half theater-y and half semi-real acting. It’s too distracting in most cases for me to sink in and enjoy the story. CITIZEN KANE stands out because Orsen Welles gives a very real and modern acting performance, and that’s why Marlon Brando and his contemporary James Dean were considered so great – they were breaking the mold of that old style decades before it became the norm (and pop culture preference). I make a few very rare exceptions, but mostly I like movies made AFTER 1964. The movie I watched easily makes it into the exception (and exceptional) category. TWELVE ANGY MEN blew my mind.
This is the 1957 movie version. It’s obviously based on a play, but the acting and direction are superb, but what stands out the most to me by a large margin is the screenplay. 95% of the movie takes place in 1 room and it never loses its grip on the audience. That’s all in the writing. Even though a few of the actors had that kind of period acting that I hate so much, the story and dialogue were too good to let that hinder the experience. Not one word spoken is wasted. Even the seemingly mundane turn out to have significance by the end of the movie.
For those of us want to consider a low budget, one location movie, the lesson learned for me was SCRIPT IS KING. If the screenplay isn’t 100%, it’s all for nothing. Every word has to play a part in achieving the affect and intent of the movie in some form or another, if it is demonstrative of character or painting the world. 12 ANGRY MEN doesn’t even tell you a single character’s name (except 2 at the very end), but you know a lot about them and they are all individualized.
As for direction, Sidney Lumet is still kickin’ it if you can believe it; I mean he is still directing as of 2009. Lumet’s direction can’t go unnoticed because he changed lenses slowly through the piece and the eye levels so that at the start of the piece we have some distance between the jurors and looking “in” on the scene, and later gets down to eye level and gets in the faces of the characters, plus it starts to compress space with the lenses and makes it feel claustrophobic in the end. At this time, even though they had color film everywhere, DRAMA’s were almost always done as Black & White as a choice. I wish it were still a viable option today, but that happens less and less.
Great movie. Definitely something relevant today, even in comparison to the varied court room dramas playing 7 nights a week on TV…
Anywho, have a good time one and all!
Peter John Ross