Sunday, August 6, 2006

MUSEUM PIECE: "TWELVE ANGRY MEN"

In 1976, CBS donated the first half hour of "Twelve Angry Men" to the Museum of Television & Radio. As it was broadcast live back in 1954, there was no tape on standby to air, and the second half was feared to be lost.

But in 2003, a complete film copy of the telecast was discovered in the collection of Marjorie Liebowitz Finch. Apparently, her father - a famous lawyer and jurist, - had requested a copy of the program from a friend at the network; and luckily enough for us, that friend came through so that we could all now see the complete production.

"Twelve Angry Men" was presented on the 'Westinghouse Studio One' program on September 20th, 1954. It was written by Reginald Rose and directed by Franklin Schaffner, and among its actors were Robert Cummings, Edward Arnold, Franchot Tone, and Walter Abel; with Vincent Gardenia in an uncredited turn as the court officer.

Last week, Turner Classic Movies showed the film adaptation of "12 Angry Men". Whether it had long planned to do so, or was perhaps added in to the schedule as a salute to Jack Warden (Juror #7) who passed away on July 19th, I don't know. But I watched it again, as I always feel compelled to do, and promised myself to finally watch the original TV production at the MT&R.

I've always loved "Twelve Angry Men", ever since 6th Grade when we did a classroom reading of the piece. I got to be one of the jurors, but after all these years I can't remember which one. I think it may have been Juror #4 the precise businessman best known to audiences as played by EG Marshall in the film version. The trained actor in me hasn't been completely extinguished yet, so I'd like to try my hand some day at the role of the bigoted Juror #10 (Ed Begley in the film) to see if I could understand how he could feel that way. Besides, that's a really juicy monologue he has!

Had we done the staged version at the old Meat & Potatoes Theater Company, I'd more than likely get Juror #2, the mild-mannered bank clerk. But that would be okay too, since every role in this play has depth and weight.

I won't bore you with a synopsis of the plot; you can always check out the movie yourself. Or visit this site. Suffice to say, twelve jurors must decide the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father. Only one juror is a holdout with his vote of "not guilty". One by one, he must persuade the others to come around to his way of thinking.

The original production was an hour-long episode of 'Studio One', including the commercials featuring Betty Furness for Westinghouse. The movie was expanded with additional material to make it about 90 minutes.

Reginald Rose adapted his own teleplay and it's those revisions that make the movie the stronger version. But the original script was powerful in its own right and went on to win the Emmy Award for Best Written Dramatic Material (Reginald Rose), Best Direction (Franklin Schaffner), and Best Actor in a Single Performance (Robert Cummings in the role later played by Henry Fonda in the film.)

Certain bits of business and speeches were re-assigned between the two versions; the most significant being the discovery about the woman's eyeglasses. As with all of the revisions, it plays stronger in the movie version as it becomes more personal and instrumental in swaying Juror #4 into changing his vote.

In the original, it's #6 who notices that #2 can't see without his glasses. (Sounds like an episode of 'The Prisoner'!) In the TV version, the woman wore her glasses during her testimony; in the movie it plays out in discovery like a mystery, what with all the business about the impression of the "red dots".

Of course, by rewriting this scene to give it to Numbers 4 and 9, Jurors #2 and #6 are robbed of that moment in the movie. But Ed Binns as #6 does get a good scene with Fonda as recompense. John Fielder, meanwhile, still nails the role of #2 with each line, especially when he calls Lee J. Cobb (as #3) a loudmouth. It's almost as if he was laying the groundwork for his future role as Mr. Peterson, the "hostile mouse" on 'The Bob Newhart Show'.

Another revision gave the movie version a timeless quality betrayed only by the costumes, lack of A/C, and the introduction of the second switch blade. Instead of tickets to a ball game - as was the case in the movie, - Juror #7 has tickets to see "The Seven Year Itch". I'll bet quite a few people today don't even know it was a play, let alone that a movie was made of it.

That #7 was a marmalade salesman is probably the only revision for the movie that doesn't work and I'm surprised they kept that in for the 1997 version on Showtime.

One last difference between the original TV version and the movie adaptation, and it's a major one. In the movie, we actually see how much Juror #3 has invested of his memories of his own son into the case so that it becomes extremely personal. This is missing from the original; although we know that his relationsip with his son has always been rocky and that he hasn't even seen him for two years.

But in the movie, his grief over this loss overwhelms him and he tears his son's picture into pieces. In the TV version, however, Franchot Tone finally just waves away his last bit of resistance to the will of the others and it looks like he'll vote "not guilty" just to be done with them all.

Still, Lee J. Cobb (and I would imagine George C. Scott in the Showtime remake) barges through the role like a bull elephant as he tries to force all of the others to his viewpoint. Franchot Tone is more subdued in comparison.

But I will say this about Tone's performance - his version of Juror #3 is the more dangerous one, like a coiled rattler ready to strike. And this image is brought home by the ending. Remember in the movie, Jurors #3 and 8 are the last to leave the jury room, and #8 helps #3, overcome with defeat, into his jacket.

In the teleplay, Franchot Tone picks up the second switchblade and flicks it open, holding it as though he would really use it this time. And there was that interminable second, even though I knew better, where it looked as though he really would do so.

Okay, so here's a few notes that are of a more Toobworld oriented aspect about the 1954 production of "Twelve Angry Men".

Norman Fell played the jury foreman, but in the credits he's listed as Norman Feld.

Unlike the coda to the 1957 movie, none of the Jurors have names at all revealed to us. Therefore, they could be anybody in the TV Universe who happened to be living in Manhattan at that time.

For instance, I mentioned Vincent Gardenia as the court officer..... What if he turned out to be McNab, Archie's old neighbor on 'All In The Family, who sold his home to the Jeffersons? Then, after he retired from the court system and moved away from Queens, he wound up in Santa Barbara, California, where his grandson "Buzz" would develop a working friendship with Shawn and Gus of the 'Psych' Detective Agency.

Since this was a live production, mistakes were bound to crop up. But I'm not sure it was a mistake when Robert Cummings stumbled over one of his first major speeches as Juror #8. Instead, it felt real to me, as if he was tripping over what he had to say as he slowly gained the confidence to continue.

But there was one doozy of a mistake! At one point, one of the cameras eases into view on the right hand of the screen. All of the actors ignore it, but the audience certainly can't! Eventually word must have been relayed to the cameraman and he pulls back.

So how do we splain this away for Toobworld?

It was invisible to the naked eye of the jurors, but was actually there in the courtroom to monitor them. Perhaps it was sent from the future; part of the equipment used by the time-traveling news team of 'See It Now', or by the quantum leaping researchers who work with Dr. Sam Beckett. Or they could be the monitor devices used by aliens back in the 1950s to study human behavior.

Like I said, the camera was invisible to the jurors and thus can be ignored by us as well since it never comes into play to mean anything.

At the very beginning of the play, we see all the jurors in the jury box as they listen to the instructions put forth by the judge in their case. We hear those same instructions again at the very end, but this time we are looking at an empty jury box.

I can't say for certain, as there was no credit given for this, but I could swear that the voice of the judge was supplied by Will Geer. Is there anybody out there who could verify this for me?

With the film cast, only one actor remains alive - Jack Klugman, who played Juror #5, the young possibly Jewish man who grew up in a slum. As of November, 2004, according to an article by Harry Haun, only one actor remained alive from the original TV broadcast: Will West, who played Juror #12. (His SAG name for the movies was Larkin Ford.)

Two of the actors from the original production went on to recreate their roles for the movie version - Joseph Sweeney and George Voskovec. Usually it's the other way around, like Richard Widmark as 'Madigan', Yul Brynner as the King of Siam, and Gary Burghoff as Radar O'Reilly in 'M*A*S*H'.

The title drawing for this production was reminiscent of Picasso and was painted by Howard Mandel. I don't know if he was (or is) any relation to Howie Mandel of 'St. Elsewhere' and 'Deal Or No Deal' fame. But I do know this - that painting would fit right in at the 'Night Gallery'!

We never see or hear the prosecutor of this case. But in my Toobworldly heart, I'd like to think it was an up and coming ADA in the Manhattan court system who probably thought this was going to be a slam dunk case; an easy conviction.

I'd like to think that young prosecutor was able to rise above this setback on his eventual journey to become the Manhattan District Attorney until just a few years ago - Adam Schiff of 'Law & Order'......

The defense attorney is thought to be ill-equipped to handle the case, perhaps not even very good. So it definitely can't be the Prestons of 'The Defenders', another creation of Reginald Rose. But it could be Daniel J. O'Brien of 'The Trials Of O'Brien'.

Not that I want to besmirch the abilities of a family member, even if he is fictional......

You may have noticed that I hardly mentioned the Showtime version of the play. That's because I've yet to see it. I'll have to check Netflix and see if it's available to add to my queue. Afterwards, I'll share my thoughts on that in connection to this version. But definitely I'd have to say that the 1997 version must be relegated to Earth Prime-Time Delayed, while the 1954 original is to be found in the main Toobworld.

Several TV shows have used this play as a template for episodes featuring their main characters. Among them would be 'The Dead Zone', 'Monk', '7th Heaven', and 'All In The Family'. If you can think of any others, let me know........

Finally, here is a list of the jurors and the actors who played them. In brackets you'll find the actors who played them in the movie version in order to help you visualize their characters better.

JURY FOREMAN - Norman Fell (Martin Balsam)
JUROR #2 - John Beal (John Fielder)
JUROR #3 - Franchot Tone (Lee J. Cobb)
JUROR #4 - Walter Abel (EG Marshall)
JUROR #5 - Lee Phillips (Jack Klugman)
JUROR #6 - Bart Burns (Ed Binns)
JUROR #7 - Paul Hartman (Jack Warden)
JUROR #8 - Robert Cummings (Henry Fonda)
JUROR #9 - Joseph Sweeney (both)
JUROR #10 - Edward Arnold (Ed Begley)
JUROR #11 - George Voskovec (both)
JUROR #12 - Will West (Robert Webber)

BCnU!
Tele-Toby

2 comments:

Hugh said...

The Simpsons has had more than one take on "12 Angry Men" (the main one being about a trial of Mayor Quimby's nephew).

There's also an episode of Charmed where Allisa Milano is the stubborn juror. I saw part of this rerun on TNT the other day, and it dealt with a defendant claiming magic had occured, so the witch has to try to convince the others that magic can exist.

Toby said...

Thanks, Hugh! I can always depend on you for finding me more great examples!

I had a feeling that 'The Simpsons' might have spoofed the concept - after all, they've been on the air so long, they've covered every other situation!

But I was too tired after writing the piece to go looking through my various 'Simpsons'books.

However, I never would have known about the 'Charmed' connection. And rerun just the other day? Dang! A near miss.

Thanks again!