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James Stewart is Paul Biegler, a former District Attorney turned small town defence lawyer. He is called upon to defend Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), an Army Lieutenant accused of shooting dead the man who Manion believes raped his wife Laura (Lee Remick). As Paul digs deeper into the circumstances surrounding the crime, he realises that things are not as clear-cut as they initially seem. And that is before he has to face the fearsome – and fearless – prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott)…

Well….WOW! This is a superb film. I actually put off watching it for a long time because of it’s length; it runs at 2 hours 40 minutes, and I don’t generally like films that are much longer than two hours (blame it on my attention span). However this film gripped me from the word go, and once the action moved to the courtroom – about an hour into the film – it really became compelling viewing. The role that James Stewart will always be most remembered for is probably George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. And while that certainly is a wonderful film, I preferred him here, and thoroughly enjoyed his performance as the morally ambiguous Biegler. He was not let down by the rest of the cast either – it’s hard to pick any one performance as outstanding, because everyone in the cast was excellent. Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden (as Biegler’s smart, loyal but long suffering secretary), Arthur O’Connell (as Biegler’s friend, the alcoholic Parnell McCarthy, who finds a reason to stop drinking and start living, as he works with Biegler on the case), and George C. Scott. If this were any other cast, Scott would probably steal the show with his excellent performance!

The story ticks along nicely, with plenty of twists and turns, and I found myself switching points of view, and never quite sure what the truth was. There was tension, atmosphere and even a few laughs as the story unfolded.

However, I do have one gripe with this film and that was the ending! By that, I mean the last 7 or 8 minutes, which is not too bad for a film of 160 minutes. I won’t give anything away, but for me, the ending was unsatisfactory and not what I was hoping for. Nonetheless, it was a hugely enjoyable film, and I would certainly recommend it, especially to fans of courtroom drama – this is one of the best!

Year of release: 1959

Director: Otto Preminger

Producers: Otto Preminger

Writers: John D. Voelker (book), Wendell Mayes

Main cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott, Murray Hamilton

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Having watched the version of this film starring Henry Fonda – which I very much enjoyed – I wanted to watch this 1997 remake for comparison purposes.  Here. Jack Lemmon plays juror number 8, and as an always reliable actor, he plays the part well.

Much of the script remains unchanged from the 1957 film, and there are no changes whatsoever in the storyline itself.  There are a few added lines (and I was particularly sad to see that one scene had been cut out, albeit that that scene added little to the storyline itself, but I found it poignant in the 1957 film, nonetheless).

However, I do prefer the original film.  Fonda really made the role his own, and while Lemmon is an equally talented actor, I preferred the supporting cast in the first movie.  Lee J. Cobb, who played juror number 3 – the one most determined to find the defendant guilty at any and all cost – inhabited the part better than George C. Scott did in the 1997 film.  The same goes for most of the other characters too – except for two.  Mykelti Williamson (juror number 10) and Ossie Davis (juror number 1) were both excellent here, and Williamson in particular lit up the screen with his sheer presence.  His performance was superb.

As the story was brought up to date, the jury was multi racial; of course in reality there would almost certainly have been women on the jury as well, but as screenwriter Reginald Rose (who wrote the original script for the play which was adapted for the original film) pointed out – to have included women, the title would have had to have been changed to 12 Angry Persons, which wouldn’t have been as effective.

Some remakes are awful.  This one really isn’t, and in fact taken on its own merits it is a film well worth watching; however, I would strongly recommend watching the 1957 film as well – although I watched both within a few days, I certainly didn’t feel bored with either version.

Year of release: 1997

Director: William Friedkin

Writer: Reginald Rose

Main cast: Jack Lemmon, Mykelti Williamson, Courtney B. Vance, George C. Scott, Tony Danza, Ossie Davis, Hume Cronyn

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Click here for my review of 12 Angry Men (1957)

Click here for my review of the 2013 stage adaptation of Twelve Angry Men, at Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

Click here for my review of the 2015 stage adaptation of Twelve Angry Men, at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.

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