(1957)4.5Dan JardineTwelve Angry Men is a tightly wound top of a movie. Each scene ratchets up the tension another notch as Henry Fonda's character tries desperately to open the minds of his fellow jurors. The setting -- a claustrophobic jury room in the dog days of summer -- superbly augments the suspense. Operating within the constraints of a small budget, first-time director Sidney Lumet tightens the noose by accentuating the throbbing pulse of the ceiling fan and slowly narrowing his shots on his characters as the film approaches its climax. Based on Reginald Rose's well-known play, which had been adapted to the television screen three years earlier, Twelve Angry Men boasts a series of excellent performances by young actors who would soon become household names, including Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, and Martin Balsam. However, it is the film's established stars -- Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall and most importantly Fonda -- who play the leads, delivering the goods like seasoned pros. The film has instructional value as a study of the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the jury system, but its real value is how it allows each member of the cultural mosaic of a jury to develop into distinct, damaged, and interesting characters. In a well-crafted metaphor for the broader outline of society, the jury members must confront their prejudices in order to see that justice prevails. Nominated for three Oscars, Twelve Angry Men ran into the juggernaut of Bridge on the River Kwai and came up empty handed.