In the 1954 live telecast of 12 Angry Men, the performances, camera work, and direction were excellent, but the writing was not nearly as good as advertised.
When I was a kid, I would have fallen for this, as I did with the movie version, which was twice as long. But since then, I’ve seen hundreds of fictional TV and movie trials, some based on real cases, and covered a number of trials. As a result, I’ve learned a great many lawyers’ and writers’ tricks.
I don’t have the space within one comment to cover all of Reginald Rose’s tricks in this teleplay, but I’ll mention a number of them.
Only bigots want to see the defendant fry. Rose portrays those passionately in favor of conviction in the harshest possible light, as driven by hatred, one for his own son, and the other for Puerto Ricans. The other jurors have no twisted passions. But those who support murderers have the most twisted passions of all.
Support for free speech + Democracy + immigration = acquitting Puerto Rican murderers.
The knife story from the juror who grew up in the slums was just a Rose tactic to confuse viewers, to make them think the killer must have used a different kind of knife. But we know that the murder weapon was a switch blade. That had been established during the trial.
Sheer Improbability, I, II, and III:
• The defendant insisted he’d been at the movies during the murder, but had no ticket stub, and couldn’t recall a single thing about them, not even the titles. No way;
• The defendant would buy a switchblade that very day, only to have it mysteriously fall out of his pocket (there is no mention of the pocket having a hole in it); and
• That the victim would have a fight with his violent, criminal son, who already had a history of stabbing someone in the arm, the son would run out, and someone else would magically materialize in the apartment and stab the father to death.
Rose has the last holdouts hang everything on testimony by people claiming to be eyewitnesses, which he then easily impeaches. But Rose knew that “eyewitness” testimony is the least reliable form of evidence, after forensic and circumstantial.
And finally, I know a little secret about Reginald Rose: He liked to see guilty-as-hell murderers walk. Don’t believe me? Check this out:
Award-winning, New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix founded A Different Drummer magazine (1989-93). Stix has written for Die Suedwest Presse, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Middle American News, Toogood Reports, Insight, Chronicles, the American Enterprise, Campus Reports, VDARE, the Weekly Standard, Front Page Magazine, Ideas on Liberty, National Review Online and the Illinois Leader. His column also appears at Men's News Daily, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Enter Stage Right and OpinioNet. Stix has studied at colleges and universities on two continents, and earned a couple of sheepskins, but he asks that the reader not hold that against him. His day jobs have included washing pots, building Daimler-Benzes on the assembly-line, tackling shoplifters and teaching college, but his favorite job was changing his son's diapers.