A long joke on jury duty, "Love Your Underprivileged Brother Week" condensed to 90 minutes in a deliberation box. The construction of Reginald Rose's teleplay departs from Hitchcock's Murder! (Sir John versus the chorus of peers), Sidney Lumet in his first film records it as a meticulous laboratory experiment, a clammy orchestra. The introductory view of the chamber is a high angle from behind the uncooperative electric fan on the wall, the men file in and the camera descends and glides among them, framing and reframing them into solos and duets and trios, an unbroken take (nearly seven minutes, including opening credits) that ends with a cut to Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) gazing out the window. Nobody wants to stay there on the hottest day of the year, the accused is clearly guilty, so goes the vote except for Fonda's lone holdout. "I just want to talk." The gradually turning tide is a case tried twice, evidence and reenactments and all—the switchblade in the scene of the crime, the dragging foot of a witness, the time it takes for the L Train to rattle by. "Reasonable doubt" drives the line of reasoning, baseball also figures tellingly: The marmalade jokester (Jack Warden) has tickets burning in his pockets while the foreman (Martin Balsam) recalls a game interrupted by a downpour, "and we go into extra innings here, eh?" Fonda's shrewd humility emerges as the crucible of a virtual terrarium of 1950s masculinity which includes the Madison Avenue flip-flopper (Robert Webber), the stockbroker who refuses to sweat (E.G. Marshall), the loudmouth with an aria of prejudice (Ed Begley), the patriarch conducting his own personal persecution (Lee J. Cobb). Despite Truffaut's assessment ("a screenwriter's film"), very much a work of lenses and angles and lighting, "no real dead spots, know what I mean?" The immigrant watchmaker (George Voskovec) who praises "the remarkable thing about democracy" voices Rose's faith in human justice, Lumet's mordant questioning begs to differ in Serpico, Prince of the City, The Verdict, Running on Empty... Cinematography by Boris Kaufman. With Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, John Fiedler, and Joseph Sweeney. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce