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Twelve Angry Men (DVD Review)

8 Feb, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 2/9/10
$19.98 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Robert Cummings, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold.

Sweaty, cantankerous Manhattan jurors overcome personal animosities to whittle down an 11-1 vote in favor of murder conviction — a story most movie lovers know from the 1957 theatrical version that was Oscar-nominated (as was Sidney Lumet in his directorial debut).

But thanks to a chance discovery of kinescope footage (merely the first half-hour) once though to be lost, we can all be “present at the creation” via the original source.

This is because three years before the 95-minute theatrical feature (where the angered were rendered as “12”), Reginald Rose’s Emmy-winning teleplay was performed live in 1954 on CBS’s “Westinghouse Studio One” in a version running about 40 minutes shorter — the marketing standout of a superb 2008 boxed set ($59.98, E1) that anthologized the series.

This is the solo DVD release — though also included is another Rose teleplay (for 1954’s An Almanac of Liberty), which was included on the same set. 

Though Lumet’s version remains an all-timer, this version is no slouch and, in fact, won three Emmys: for Rose, for future Planet of the Apes/Patton director Franklin Schaffner, and (in the future Henry Fonda role) for Robert Cummings, who atypically sports something close to a buzz cut as the juror who tries to sway his colleagues. Which isn’t easy because the room is a haven for malcontents and even bigots.

As with Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the two early versions of Men rank with the greatest works to portray New York life before air conditioning. In 1997, William Friedkin directed a not-bad Showtime remake with Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott that was on VHS and Laserdisc but never DVD.

And the teleplay became a natural with high-school drama departments, where it was sometimes presented as The Angry Twelve so that girls could be included in the cast.
The disc comes with a cool 16-page booklet with lots of backgrounders.

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