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Extract from Teacher's Commentary​



Let the film roll until Juror #6 helps the old juror to his seat

The film opens with a low angle shot of the exterior of a massive neo-classical building. The huge columns are made to appear even bigger by the camera angle. A flight of steps adds to the sense of grandeur. The camera slowly tilts upwards positioning us, the audience, to stand in awe of the structure. The sounds of everyday life in a city are heard on the soundtrack but this does not distract us from the contemplation of the grandeur of the building before us. We reach the entablature and read the motto in grand Roman lettering “DEMONSTRATION OF JUSTICE IS THE FIRMEST PILLAR OF GOOD”. Thus a central theme is introduced at the very start of the film. The reference to ‘pillar’ connects the literal columns of the porch and the metaphorical sense of justice properly sopported out as a vital basis of society. The architecture harks back to ancient times and we think of the grandeur of Rome and the laws that have been passed down across time since the early days of Greek democracy.

We cut to the inside of the building and the massive scale of the interior matches that of the façade. As the camera tilts downwards we catch a glimpse of the words ‘Roman’ and ‘Byzantine’, ancient centres of civilisation that have the best of their heritage preserved and maintained in establishments such as this throughout Western society. There is a sense of the structure being the centre of interest as the camera tilts downwards and people appear. The people in the lobby are tiny and move about this way and that. There might be a suggestion that the structure is greater, more enduring, more important than the individuals.

Suddenly the camera follows an individual. There is a sense that any one of the people walking about the building could have been chosen. The random movement of the camera is again emphasised when a man comes out of an elevator and we begin to follow him only to lose interest as another man emerges from a phone booth smiling and obviously delighted with the news he has just received. His mood contrasts starkly with the of the first man who seemed preoccupied and troubled in himself. The group of people at the end of the corridor share noisily in the delight of the man with the news and they are reprimanded by the guard in uniform. The camera moves smoothly to the left pauses outside room 228. All of this has scene has been projected in one take, i.e. no other shots have been edited in to this camera set-up. The movement has been fluid and unbroken and sets the pattern for the rest of the film. There is a sense that the camera could have followed any individual in the building and this film would have become their story.

When we cut to the courtroom we hear the judge droning out his instructions to the jury in a voice that suggests he is totally tired of the proceedings. The juror dressed in white has his fingers to his mouth in a meditative pose. Another shifts uneasily and checks his watch. An older man holds a handkerchief to his nose. In general they are taking in what the judge has to say in a serious manner. He is instructing them in the letter of the law but his tone infers a detachment from the proceedings. This could be read as an anticlimax to the grandeur of the opening - outside the system looks solid but inside the people administering the system have not got the heart for the work. He tells them that they must bring in a unanimous verdict and the sentence of death will follow a guilty verdict without leave of appeal. Such a decision must be made on the basis that they are convinced of the guilt of the accused beyond a “reasonable doubt”.

As the camera tracks from right to left we hear this phrase three times. The juror in white shifts at the mention of “in good conscience”. He looks like a serious man who will take this to heart. Another juror looks compassionately out of frame (at the accused) at the word ‘mercy’.

As they prepare to leave the court some jurors head straight for the jury room and others linger a little and look back at the accused. A poignant musical theme strikes up on solo flute. This is a leitmotif, a melody that becomes associated with a certain place, idea or character, in this case the accused. We cut to a reverse close-up shot of the accused. The camera invites us to pity him and his vulnerability. There is a slow dissolve as the interior of the jury room comes onto the screen. Slowly the transition is complete and the credits roll.

The camera is placed at a high angle and catches all the jurors as they enter the room to prepare for their deliberations. Many take out handkerchiefs and mop their brow. The atmosphere is obviously muggy. Some take off their jackets. An old man comes in and goes quickly out of the frame. We later learn that the men’s room is located at this end of the room. The man dressed in white goes to the window and remains there in silent meditation as the others move about. Another man stands under the fan and wipes the sweat from his forehead. Then he goes to the end of the room and retrieves his hat. He will wear it in the room despite the humidity. He must see it as part of his ‘look’. The man using the handkerchief takes the wastepaper bin from the corner and brings it to where he will sit at the table. He has a need for it and appropriates it accordingly with no regard for the needs of others. The man in the hat seems to be extrovert as he tries to get the fan going and then offers gum to the meditative man in white. He helps another juror to get the window open and proceeds to throw the wrapping paper of his gum out the window. He voices his disgruntlement at the heat and the lack of air conditioning. We learn that he has checked the weather forecast for the day.

The clerk is taking a roll of the members of the jury and tries to preserve their anonymity. This is part of the system of justice and will be referred to again later in the film.

The compassionate-looking man who responded to the word “mercy” is surprised that the door has been locked. The man with the cold, who seems to be a jovial type, reassures him that this is normal practice and goes on to joke about making a senator of the accused.

All of this action is taking place without any cuts. The camera is moving fluidly about the room in a shot that will last for six and a half minutes. The director has decided to rule out cutting from juror to juror. This is part if Lumet’s style for this film. This is the longest of many such takes. The fluid camera gives a sense of intimacy and of the jurors getting to know each other as they talk about the details of the case for the first time. We track back with a heavy-set man who sits on a bench beside a small balding man with glasses. They swap ideas and it emerges that the novelty of the proceedings have been interesting for the man with the glasses. The other man has served on many juries and in a world-weary tone declares that the whole thing is a waste of time. This was an open and shut case in his opinion. Time and money could be saved by dealing with the likes of the accused before they get a chance to commit crimes. He comes across as bigoted.

The foreman tells the man with the paper that they will be seated according to their jury numbers. They have been issued with numbers to maintain their anonymity. Some jurors want to get things going but the foreman has noted that one juror has gone to the men’s room and doesn’t seem to be too rushed about starting. The man with the cigarette holder is asked to move so that the man with the paper can take his allotted seat. He goes to the window and chats with the man in the white suit. He has found the case interesting. He is glad they did not get a burglary. There were no low points in the case for him. He spots the roof of the Woolworth building and informs the man in the white suit that he has lived in the area all his life but has never been inside that building. From 1913 to 1930, when the Chrysler building was completed, this was the highest building in the world. It was dubbed “The Cathedral of Commerce”. We have not been made aware of it yet, but this man in the white suit is an architect by profession. There will be many such moments of irony as the film progresses.

The camera tracks to allow us to follow the gaze of the man at the window. His attention has been drawn to the conversation of two of the jurors as they discuss aspects of the case. They sound biased. They have their minds made up. The man with the hat is cracking jokes and seems never to be stuck for a humorous phrase. He checks his watch and moves to the foreman. He wants to get things under way without any more delay.

The camera moves on giving us further details about the various jurors. We learn that the big man who was weary of all the talk during the trial is a self-made businessman. He runs a messaging company. He takes his business card from his wallet and displays it. He started with nothing and takes pride in the fact that he has thirty seven men working for him now. The seated gentleman is a stock broker and does not seem too interested in the details being supplied by the businessman. He wants to keep his distance. Perhaps he is thinking about the anonymity involved in being a juror and wants to maintain this secrecy in a discreet way. The need to tell people about how he has made it tells us that the other man lacks such

We learn that the extrovert wearing the hat has tickets for a baseball game later that evening. He supports the Yankees and can’t wait to see their new man, Modjelewski, in action. The man with the glasses obviously hasn’t a clue about the ins and outs of the game and the extrovert takes a sarcastic tone as he speaks to him. He is intolerant of people who do not profess an interest in sport. The foreman suggests that the jurors take their seats according to their jury numbers and the stock broker declares this proposal reasonable.

It is important at this stage to get the various individuals on the jury into some kind of perspective. In the next sequence we will suggest an exercise for the students to get familiar with the twelve men around the table. Let’s take the following grid as model for the moment:

Juror #1 foreman
Juror #2 wearing glasses
Juror #3 self-made
Juror #4 stock broker
Juror #5 quiet
Juror #6 labourer
Juror #7 sports fan
Juror #8 white suit
Juror #9 old
Juror #10 handkerchief
Juror #11 European
Juror #12 advertising man

Juror #12 thought the performance of the prosecuting attorney was very impressive. He liked the way he presented things in a clear order. In spite of what we thought earlier, he must be a man who appreciates this kind of clear thinking. Juror #11 seems to speak in broken English. He gives the impression he is foreign. He thinks that the prosecutor did a good job. Juror #12 respected the fact that the prosecutor showed “real drive”.

As the foreman calls for attention we have the first cut since the dissolve that brought us into the jury room. The scene has lasted six and a half minutes. The camera has glided around the room imperceptibly as it introduced us to the various members of the jury. Most have had a chance to speak and we have an initial impression of them all. Juror #8 has remained by the window in silent contemplation. He has stood apart from the others and the small talk that they have engaged in the opening sequence.

As he takes his place we hear Juror # 10 talking of his surprise at the accused killing his own father. Juror #12 declares that if Juror #10 checked the figures he would see that there was no need to be surprised. Juror #4, wanting to keep his distance, will have no part in a discusson like this and raises his newspaper as a barrier. Juror #10 turns down the corner of the papaer asking “Know what I mean?”. He fails to take the hint that is being dropped. Juror #6 tells the foreman that all are still not present. He goes to the men’s room to fetch the old man. Juror #7 learns that Juror #5 supports a baseball team from Baltimore. He can’t understand how anyone could be so foolish as to do such a thing. His tone is sarcastic, just as it was with Juror #2. He is a narrow-minded man who can’t understand how anyone could support a team like that. “It’s like being hit in the head with a crow-bar once a day!” he declares. Juror #5 seems a bit timid and doesn’t try to justify his choice of team.

Juror #6 leads the old man to his seat and helps him to sit comfortably. He seems to be a gentlemanly kind of person, one who looks out for others and likes to see fair play done.

Extract from Student's Guide: 



Where is the camera positioned at the start of this sequence? What impression of this building are we, the audience, being invited to form? Can you read the inscription above the pillars? What associations have you with such pillars and buildings like this one?

What impression of the inside of the building are we being invited to form as the camera tilts downward? What is your impression of the people walking about in the lobby? Does the camera pick out any individual in particular?

Why does the camera pan to the left? Why does the camera follow the man in the light coloured suit? What impression do you form of the man who comes out of the phone box? How does he compare with the man in the light coloured suit? Why does the guard tell the group of people to be quiet? How did the camera end up outside room 228? How many cuts have there been in this interior scene? Can you think of any symbolic reading for this opening sequence?

What impression of the judge do you form as he gives the jury its final instructions? Look carefully at the actions of the jurors as the judge addresses them. Do you get an indication of what any of them are thinking?

What phrase is repeated three times by the judge as the camera tracks across the jury from right to left? What is the reaction to the phrase "in good conscience" and the word "mercy"? What impression do you form of the man in the frame? What kind of a responsibility are the jurors faced with?

How do the jurors act as they are leaving the court? When does the music start on the soundtrack? How would you describe this music? How is the accused photographed?

What impressions do you form as the jurors enter the jury room? How are they photographed? What have they in common? Does anyone behave in a different way to the others? Describe the actions of the man standing under the fan? Why does he go to the back of the room? What does the man using the handkerchief bring from the corner of the room? What might these actions tell us about each man? What impression do you form of the man who tries to get the fan working? What does he do with the wrapping off his gum? What has he to say about the weather and the room?

Why does the clerk approach the man at the window? What does this tell us about the legal system depicted in the world of this film?

What surprises the juror with the newspaper when the clerk leaves? What impression do you form of the man with the handkerchief who answers him? How does he react to the answer of the foreman who is cutting up the slips of paper?

What does the heavy set man have to say about the trial as he sits down? What does he think of the case? What do you think of the man wearing the spectacles? What is said about the legal system? How would the first man like to deal with people like the boy on trial? What would this achieve?

What question has the man with the newspaper for the foreman? What seating arrangement does the foreman suggest? Why is he not starting immediately? Why does the juror with the paper ask the man with the cigarette holder to move? When the latter goes to the window, what has he to say about the case? Why did it hold his interest? What has he to say about the Woolworth Building? Might this piece of information tell us anything about him?

Why does the camera pull back from the shot of the man in the white suit? Who is speaking? What is being said? What kind of a man is the juror wearing the hat? What has he to say to the foreman?

Next we learn what two of the jurors do for a living. Is the man standing up proud of his business? Is he proud of himself? What does the other man work at? How does he react to the sight of the business card? What might he be thinking?

Why is the man wearing the hat in such a hurry? What is his tone as he speaks to the man with the spectacles? What announcement does the foreman make? What has the broker to say about this?

(From now on we will refer to the jurors by their numbers.) What has Juror #12 got to say about the prosecuting attorney? What might this tell us about him? How does Juror #11 feel about his performance? Do we learn anything about him from the brief exchange? What happens when the foreman calls "the gentleman at the window"? What kind of a man is Juror #8?

What has Juror #10 to say about people like the accused? How does Juror #12 add to the discussion? What might this tell us about him? What is the number of the juror who tells the foreman that the old man is not yet at the table? What question has Juror #7 for Juror #5? How does Juror #5 react? What kind of a man is Juror #7? How would you describe his tone? Is this the first time he has spoken to somebody like this? How does Juror #5 react to his taunts?

What does Juror #6 do as Juror #9 takes his seat? What impression of Juror #6 are you forming?