The original 12 Angry Men film (made in 1957) is a stunning example of filmmaking excellence. The film is entirely dependent upon its script and the entirety of the film is confined to a single room. Such a limited setting placed focus on the details of the film, to which any flaws would be glaring. Fortunately, 12 Angry Men stands as one of the greatest films ever made. Additionally, Henry Fonda’s role as “Juror #7” is one of the most iconic film performances of all time. Sidney Lumet’s stellar direction is still used as an example to aspiring filmmakers of how to utilize limited space in a narrative that is crowded with conflicting personalities. Yet what 12 Angry Men is most beloved for is its message: One person can make a difference in a crowd determined to do otherwise. That is the focal point of 12 Angry Men, which extends beyond the film being an appreciation towards our country’s Judicial system.
Therefore, this asks the question as to why was it necessary to remake a classic film such as 12 Angry Men, especially in the format of a television movie. The answer is, why not? Technically speaking, 12 Angry Men was originally written by Reginald Rose as a television play in 1954, which was ultimately adapted into the iconic movie in 1957. Therefore, the 1997 remake isn’t necessarily a remake, but rather a reinterpretation of the original source material. In that regard, the films are similar in dialogue and content, which left it up to the cast to truly reinvent the same dialogue from the original play/film and give it a fresh and contemporary approach. Reginald Rose, who took part in this television remake, actually updated his script to have 12 Angry Men fit within a contemporary environment with a handful of new scenes, but more importantly, he tweaked the script to incorporate a more diverse set of characters that extended beyond a sole demographic. This was a subtle change, but still a profound one in that it reminds moviegoers that sometimes a script can be timeless. 12 Angry Men was written in 1954 and 43 years later in 1997 with this remake, the script and film still have relevancy.
The smartest decision director William Friedkin made with this remake was not attempting to recreate the original film, but rather have his remake be its own separate entity. By not trying to emulate the 1957 film, it allowed for the remake to stand on its own, opposed to being in competition with the other and forcing the viewer to debate “which is better?” What is most evident is that Friedkin eliminated the glossiness of the original film and offered the remake a more real and raw interpretation of the jury deliberation process. As a result, the dialogue is more stinging and the confrontations between characters were not only more authentic, but were more intimidating and antagonistic. This made Juror #7’s efforts to persuade his peers to vote ‘not guilty’ more daunting and difficult to achieve, opposed to the original’s premise where Juror #7 is seemingly untouchable during his plight.
Yet the most extraordinary update to the classic film was the performance from George C. Scott, who had the most arduous task of playing the famous role of “Juror #3,” the main aggressor and combatant towards “Juror #7.” In the 1957 version, Lee J. Cobb dominated the role and arguably stole the movie from Henry Fonda. The character was a complex individual whose anger is fueled by issues involving his family life. In the 1997 version, the character is the same in scope, but George C. Scott gave the role a little extra. He borders the performance as an individual who is haunted by his past and the court case hits strikingly close to his own predicament. Scott further added the character as someone who perhaps has never had control of his life before, who is perhaps a lonely and isolated individual, and this court case is a form of validation that he could at least command something. Therefore, his anger is near hysterical because he fears he is losing control. It was an astounding approach to an already famous role, and like Lee. J. Cobb, George C. Scott completely stole the movie from Jack Lemmon, which is further evidenced by Scott’s Golden Globe and Emmy win for the performance.
George C. Scott may have stolen the movie from Jack Lemmon, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t provide an equally stellar performance. Also like Scott, Lemmon had the difficult task of recreating a performance that has become iconic in film noir. Thanks to the careful directing from William Friedkin, Lemmon was given the opportunity to have his Juror #7 be someone who truly had to defy the odds in his situation when he attempts to persuade his fellow jurors that there is a reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case. Unlike Henry Fonda’s Juror #7, who was more timid, Jack Lemmon’s Juror #7 is more forceful. He is forceful because he has to be.
As mentioned before, the remake is devoid of the glossiness of the original film, providing for a rawer representation of the plot. By taking away that narrative style, Juror #7 no longer comes off as the crusader that Henry Fonda portrayed him to be. Instead, Jack Lemmon’s performance is more human due to the fact that the character is more vulnerable and could easily be silenced, which he realizes. Therefore, the performance from Lemmon is more assertive and aggressive, which further allowed for Lemmon to make the character his own, opposed to providing a performance that emulated Henry Fonda’s. As a result of this acting decision from Lemmon, it created the impression of Juror #7 being the stones that start an avalanche. His words are not persuasive, but rather are thought-provoking. His character demands for the others to at least look at the evidence more closely, which is a direct deviation from Henry Fonda’s performance where he had the character leaning towards an initial belief that the defendant is not guilty. Lemmon becomes convinced of the not guilty status along with the rest of his peers and his strength grows as the evidence for ‘not guilty’ becomes more evident.
What was essential for this film to work was that Jack Lemmon had to make the role of Juror #7 his own and not even try to compare himself to Henry Fonda. In that regard, Lemmon offered a completely different variation of the character who is more human and vulnerable at the same time. That was a smart decision on Lemmon’s part. Yet what is more valuable with Lemmon in this film is that he was capable of leading the film and is convincing as an ordinary person who makes a difference. Yet the character has to take incredible strides to make that very difference, especially when sparring with George C. Scott, which provides for some of the movie’s best scenes. Scott may have stolen the spotlight in the film, but Lemmon’s acting definitely enabled Scott’s performance to being as great as it was. This is primarily because Lemmon shifted his acting style regarding Scott and had Juror #7 recognize he needed to essentially ‘get in the mud’ with Juror #3 if he intended to persuade the others of the defendant’s innocence. This gave George C. Scott the opportunity to have his performance become more antagonistic and pointed more directly at Juror #7. This gave the confrontations between the two characters more authenticity, not to mention seeing two cinema giants sparring against each other having just that much more impact.
The 12 Angry Men remake was a critical success. Along with George C. Scott’s Golden Globe and Emmy win, the remake saw itself nominated as Best Television Movie in both ceremonies, as well as Jack Lemmon being nominated for Lead Actor with both the Golden Globes and the Emmys. He didn’t win in either ceremony. However, Jack Lemmon’s loss at the Golden Globes provided for one of the greatest award ceremony moments. When the winner was announced, Ving Rhames for Don King: Only in America was proclaimed as the winner. Once on stage and trying to contain his emotions, he asked for Jack Lemmon to step up on the stage with him. Jack Lemmon, clearly confused, was given a standing ovation as he reluctantly made his way to the stage to be alongside Ving Rhames. Once on stage, Rhames put his arm around Lemmon and said, “I feel that being an artist is about giving and I would like to give this to you,” and handed Jack Lemmon his Golden Globe.
Clearly taken aback, at a loss for words, declaring he would not be able to accept the Golden Globe but realizing Rhames would not take back the award, Jack Lemmon finally said, “That was one of the nicest, sweetest moments I’ve ever known in my life.”
To see Ving Rhames give his Golden Globe to Jack Lemmon, Click HERE