12 Angry Men - Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
12 Angry Men is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. This new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit 2K from a 35mm fine-grain master positive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
For a movie that is over half a Century old, the video presentation here is excellent. Criterion have always done astounding jobs on almost all of their titles – no matter the age – but this blows similarly-aged titles out of the water (c.f. Seven Samurai) to make for a presentation that just edges into demo quality territory, a high accolade indeed for such an aged piece. Detail is generally very good throughout, with only a few moments lapsing into softer, less-focussed territory, and clarity otherwise remaining strong throughout. The black and white monochrome palette is well rendered, the varying shades of grey lovingly replicated, with excellent contrast and dynamic range, bright whites and deep, rich blacks at the polar opposite ends, with every kind of imperceptibly replicated shade of grey lovingly reflected in between. The close-ups are even more impressive than the longer shots – every wrinkle and every pore on the faces of the jurors represented here perfectly. There’s no sign of over-zealous DNR, nor edge enhancement or other digital tinkering, and a strong layer of suitably filmic grain reigns over the piece, only very occasionally appearing to get out of hand. All in all, I suspect that this movie has simply never looked this good, and this is another impressive job by Criterion.
The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a restored 35mm magnetic print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
An almost entirely dialogue-driven affair, 12 Angry Men’s LPCM 1.0 track may be technically limited, but, just like the video presentation, it does an equally impressive job at presenting the material lovingly, accurately and, I suspect, unlike anybody has ever heard before. Although, as stated, we’re mainly talking vocal action here – from whispers to low-level reasoned arguments to raised voices and outright shouting – there is simply no distortion at all, the dialogue coming across clearly and coherently throughout with no signs of any background noise or problematic inference. Whilst it is hard for this kind of material to amaze in terms of its aural presentation, fans should rest content in the knowledge that it sounds better than ever before.
Furthering their reputation for having the best extras packages for all home cinema releases, Criterion have once again outdone themselves with a worthy selection of extras, the highlights of which are the original television episode of Twelve Angry Men, whose success led to the theatrical feature being commissioned, as well as the companion television episode, also directed by Lumet and written by Reginald Rose, Tragedy in a Temporary Town.
Introduction by Ron Simon
In this fifteen-minute piece, filmed by the Criterion Collection in August 2011, Ron Simon, curator at the Paley Center for Media in New York City, looks at the importance of the Franklin J. Schaffner-directed teleplay, its key actors, and its impact on live television at the time.
Film historian Ron Simon hosts this introduction to this TV episode, and stays on board for the majority of the extras on this disc. He discusses the Golden era of TV, the work done by Reginald Rose and Sidney Lumet, and the impact of this particular instalment.
The Television Version
The television version of 12 Angry Men was written for the series Westinghouse Presents Studio One by Reginald Rose and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. It first aired on September 26, 1954.
Here we get the original episode itself. Running at 52 minutes in length and presented with fairly average video and audio, we are still extremely lucky to get the chance to look at this interesting piece – the inspiration and very reason why the movie exists in the first place. With a couple of cast members who made the transition through to the feature film, as well as an almost identical script, albeit in an abbreviated form, this is clearly a comparable, but inferior effort – TV runtime restrictions, budgetary constraints, less capable actors and an arguably less refined director amidst them. Still the lead actor, Robert Cummings, who plays the role that went to Henry Fonda, won an Emmy Award for his performance, and there is much to enjoy in this forgotten gem. Well worth checking out.
12 Angry Men: From TV to the Big Screen
In this interview, conducted by the Criterion Collection in August 2011 at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, film scholar Vance Kepley looks at 12 Angry Men’s evolution from teleplay to film.
This 25-minute Documentary, hosted by film scholar Vance Kepley, looks behind the scenes at the production, from its inception as a TV episode through to its production as a theatrical feature, looking at the importance of TV back in those days, the way in which Hollywood looked to TV for ideas for feature films, the casting, directorial duties, and the film’s long-term impact (following on from an initially weak success on release).
Presented here are a compilation of interviews conducted with Sidney Lumet throughout his career.
Here we get a 23 minute compilation of interview footage with the late Lumet. One of the best extras on the disc, particularly for fans of the acclaimed director, in this revealing extra we get to hear about his beginnings in the film industry, his work on TV, his selection for directing 12 Angry Men as his first feature, and his successes from there on.
Reflections on Sidney
Presented here is a new interview with Lumet friend and collaborator Walter Bernstein.
This 12 minute companion-piece interview has Bernstein extensively singing his friend’s praises, and emphasising many of the worthy character traits that the director already showed us in the preceding interviews.
On Reginald Rose
Reginald Rose, the writer of 12 Angry Men, was one of the most renowned figures of television’s golden age, known for work that explored controversial social and political issues. In this fifteen-minute piece, Ron Simon, curator at the Paley Center for Media, examines Rose’s importance.
Ron Simon returns to introduce us to Reginald Rose, taking 15 minutes to look at the impact of the writer’s work and his significance in the TV industry, as well as highlighting his ongoing themes and socio-political commentaries.
Tragedy in a Temporary Town
Also featured here is Tragedy in a Temporary Town, written by Rose in 1956 and directed by Sidney Lumet.
Another offering from TV, this 55-minute episode, aired on NBC, has parallels to 12 Angry Men with its themes of mob mentality and mob justice. The story is about an attack on a young girl, and the group who go looking for revenge on her behalf, and you can see the comparable direction and strong writing from the Lumet/Rose partnership. Arguably as powerful as the main feature itself, and just as enduring, this is well worth checking out.
On Boris Kaufman
Cinematographer Boris Kaufman, filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s younger brother, is a seminal figure in cinema history, having photographed some of the most beloved films of all time, including Jean Vigo’s Zero de conduit, Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront and Baby Doll, and Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men and The Fugitive Kind. In this forty-minute piece, cinematographer John Bailey discusses Kaufman’s overall visual style and his work with Lumet.
This comprehensive 38-minute offering is hosted by cinematographer John Bailey, who looks back at the work of long-time Lumet collaborator, cinematographer Boris Kaufman, his background, his style, and his influences, with illustrative selected highlights from the films that he has worked on.
We also get the original 2-minute theatrical trailer.
Lumet’s Faces by Thane Rosenbaum
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, and law professor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post, among other publications. He is also the director of the Forum on Law, Culture & Society at Fordham Law School.
Perhaps one of the biggest highlights of Criterion Collection releases, aside from their fantastic video, audio and extras packages, is the one item that none but the most lavish releases from other Studios have: a great accompanying booklet. Always providing fantastic background reading, this is no exception.
An excellent study of minimalistic plotting, excellent character development and superior strength of script, Sidney Lumet’s theatrical debut, 12 Angry Men, is a stunning legal drama boasting some truly memorable performances and an enduring socio-political commentary on the law, justice and the inherent dangers of trial by jury. Many filmmakers have since sought to imitate the claustrophobic intensity of this drama, but few films have even come close to this powerhouse production which remains gripping and poignant to this day, over half a Century since it was first released.
Released on Region A Blu-ray as part of the highly acclaimed Criterion Collection, we get the kind of excellent video and audio that we have only come to expect from these expert, respectful film restorers, who have not only given the film a better presentation than it has likely ever known before, but have also adorned the disc with a superbly-chosen selection of extras that are well worth investigating – including the original TV episode that preceded the movie itself, as well as another excellent episode by the same writer/director team. Fans of the film should already have this in their collections, and those who enjoy a decent drama should consider this a blind buy – it really is an all-time classic that deserves a place in every film enthusiast’s library. Highly recommended.
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