12 Angry Men (1957) is a very ambiguous film and it's open to many interpretations. On one hot summer day in the 1950s, 12 jurors meet in a room to come to a verdict in a murder trial. Everything seems to be going against the teenage boy whose father was stabbed to death with a knife. The evidence is damning and it doesn't help that he's a poor kid from the slums. All of the jurors think the kid's guilty, except for one: Henry Fonda's character Juror #8. They sit in the hot room arguing about the evidence, witness testimony and circumstances. It gets very heated in more ways than one. The final verdict is reached after what seems like a very long time. Was it justice? Was it the result of the frustrations of being in a very hot room for way too long? Was it manipulation? Who knows? And that's the thing. No one ever really knows the truth in circumstances such as these. You just try your very best.
Jack Klugman plays juror #5. He is the third person to change his mind about the verdict. A very shy young man who at first is too nervous to participate but gets worked up when he sees that the other jurors are condemning the teenager because he was raised in a slum. This is when Juror #5 stands up for himself. He was raised in a slum too. In his first act of bravado he proclaims, "I've lived in a slum all my life. Please! I've played in a backyard filled with garbage. Perhaps you can still smell it on me?" While he doesn't stand out in the pack of 12 like Lee J. Cobb and Henry Fonda do, it is very interesting to watch his transformation from quiet wallflower to active participant. All of these men are very different from each other. They have different temperaments, backgrounds, careers, educations, statues and are all different ages. What's great about this film is to watch how all these different men come together to argue and reason their way to a final verdict.
Next time you watch 12 Angry Men, take a close look at juror #5. Watch how he transforms throughout the film. By the way, Jack Klugman is the last surviving of all the actors in 12 Angry Men. Wouldn't it be grand to sit and listen to his stories about the filming of the movie? One can only dream!
You tell 'em Jack!