ANGRY MEN (1957)
Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman,
Ed Begley, Martin Balsam, Robert Webber, George Voskovec, John
Fiedler, Edward Burns, Joseph Sweeney. Directed by Sidney Lumet. (96
by D.M. ANDERSON💀
had to report for jury duty today. I fucking hate jury duty.
should amend that last statement, since I've never actually sat
on a jury. This was the fifth goddamn time I've been
summoned and not-once have I made it past the waiting room to be questioned by
the judge and attorneys. My civic duty has so-far consisted of sitting.
I once sat for 16 fucking hours over two days – reading three
novels and subjected to a nonstop barrage of Fox News' verbal vomit
from the overhead TV – just to be sent home with nothing but a
thank you and a $15 reimbursement for parking. That's a damn shame
because I've always been ready for the judge's questions with a variety of creative
responses to avoid being selected, such as ending each of
my answers with “according to prophecy.”
more effectively, I could simply recite some of the bigoted bile
spewed by Juror #10 in 12 Angry Men:
they're lushing it up and fighting all the time and if somebody gets
killed, so somebody gets killed! They don't care! Oh, sure, there are
some good things about 'em, too! Look, I'm the first one to say that!
known a couple who were OK, but that's the exception, y'know what I
mean? Most of 'em, it's like they have no feelings! They can do
pretty certain quoting any
line by that character – out of context, before being asked a
single question – would get me immediately excused. One brief
uncomfortable silence later, my obligation to the county would be
driving in downtown Portland is like playing Tetris with cars, I
decided to take the commuter train to the courthouse. I generally hate public
transportation because a lot of people who use it don't seem to
have any particular destination in mind. For them, the train is more of a social gathering. Worse yet, some are
under the mistaken impression I'm open to friendly banter, even if it's one-sided. The last time I rode the
train, a guy who smelled like taco meat decided to regale me with his
days as a bounty hunter, occasionally pausing to swat imaginary
flies. I would have moved but there were no other available seats, so
I simply did my best to ignore him.
maybe this was how he
planned to avoid jury duty and was simply getting into character.
|Another social gathering.|
on a more positive note, today's train was relatively empty, even
though it was rush hour. That's because the COVID-19 pandemic is
still raging, so not-only are masks required to ride public
transportation, social distancing guidelines allow only 26 people per
car, meaning I pretty much had a section all to myself.
kids...even global pandemics have a bright side.
this wasn't my first rodeo, I brought a backpack carrying my
Chromebook, a water bottle, a bag of Funyuns and the Stephen King
novel I got for Christmas but never got around to reading. And who
knows...perhaps coffee & Funyun breath might turn enough stomachs
to get me excused right away.
that wasn't gonna happen because suddenly I realized I left my coffee
tumbler on top of the ticket dispenser at the station where I
boarded. This didn't bode well for those poor bastards downtown.
Coffee is my personal heroin and without it, there was a distinct
possibility the Multnomah County Courthouse would soon be sending out
a batch of jury summonses for a murder
Thank God my bounty-hunting, fly-swatting friend wasn't around to
incur my wrath.
there would be an open Starbucks downtown to defuse an
I receive a jury summons, 1957's 12
Angry Men inevitably comes to mind. It’s arguably the greatest courtroom drama that doesn't actually take
place in a courtroom and undoubtedly the greatest film ever set
in a single room. Based on the Reginald Rose play, the story has 12
nameless jurors deliberating the fate of a young man on trial for
murdering his own father. Though the boy's ethnicity is never
mentioned, stereotypical comments and assumptions made by certain
members of the all-white jury make it clear he's a minority. Their initial 'guilty' votes are also supported
by overwhelming, seemingly irrefutable evidence.
|Henry Fonda...sick of your shit.|
Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) is the sole 'not guilty' vote and the only one
with enough compassion and empathy to discuss the facts before
condemning the boy to death. On the other end of the spectrum is the
aforementioned Juror #10 (Ed Begley), who's clearly a racist, and
Juror #3 (Lee J. Cobb)...belligerent, judgmental and increasingly
infuriated as Juror #8 finds fallacies in the testimony, gradually prompting other jurors to change their vote. But in one
of the film's most powerful moments, we eventually learn why he's so
angry, which is actually kind of heartbreaking and ultimately has
nothing to do with the boy's race (though it doesn't make Juror #3
any less of a dick).
downtown, I debarked the train at the stop nearest the courthouse. Strutting down the sidewalk was a tough looking young man who either just climbed
out of a time machine or was cosplaying as Benny Blanco from the
Bronx (a gangster played by John Leguizamo in Carlito's
He was decked-out in a similarly flashy three-piece, complete with a
wide-brimmed fedora and a rose in the lapel. He even had the same
pencil-thin mustache. Since he was heading the same direction as my
destination, I followed from a discreet distance. When he reached
Pioneer Courthouse Square, he suddenly perched himself on one of the
benches, produced a big bag of bird seed and commenced feeding the
pigeons. An elderly, white-haired lady approached and smiled. He greeted her by-name as she joined him on the bench, then they began feeding the birds together.
Considering his look and demeanor, I was surprised these two actually knew each other.
Because of 12
Angry Men...I always picture juries as a
batch of weary guys in a dingy room, ties loosened and
shirts pit-stained, pounding the table as they vigorously debate
someone's fate. I also tend to wonder which of those guys is the most
like me, because one of the film's greatest strengths – besides
themes that are still timely today – is its rich, believable
characters. Every one of them resembles somebody we've all had
pleasure or displeasure to know in real life. That somebody may even
course, we'd all like to think we're Juror #8, an analytical,
cool-headed leader with the resolve to stand by his convictions and
the temperament to avoid making snap judgments. But honestly, who
made relatively harmless face-value evaluations of people we've never met
personally? What assumption did I make of Portland's own Benny
Blanco? While he probably didn't wake up this morning and head downtown to
bust a cap in Al Pacino's ass, it never crossed my mind that
a guy resembling a high-toned gangster would begin each day
fattening the pigeons with an old lady. Just because someone looks or behaves a certain way doesn't mean you know them. Yet some of the jurors in 12 Angry Men base their initial vote on similarly ignorant presumptions.
|Benny Blanco, the bird feeder.|
I'm not as admirably unassuming as Juror #8, but at-least I'm not as
bitter as Juror #3 or as ignorant as Juror #10. Given my overall
attitude toward the idea of jury duty in the first place, I suppose
I'm most similar to Juror #7. As played by Jack Warden in the film,
Juror #7 doesn't want to be there, either. With a couple of baseball
tickets burning a whole in his pocket, he just wants to wrap things
up and get the hell out of there. As the deliberation drags on, impatience is
the main reason he eventually changes his vote to 'not guilty.' I'd like to think I wouldn't have such an indifferent attitude in a murder case, but would the prospect of lengthy deliberations influence my own vote? I'm not sure I want to know the answer to that.
that respect, if I intentionally torpedoed my chances for jury
selection today, I'd still be doing my civic duty by making certain
they selected someone who actually gives a shit.
it turned out, I didn't have to worry about it anyway, and this time
I didn't even make
it to the waiting room. I was met outside the courthouse by a clerk
(because, you know...pandemic) who took my jury card and informed me
that trial selection was canceled. She said I should have checked my
voicemail, but since I showed up, I was free of my obligation to the
county for another two years. It's a good thing I was wearing my
COVID mask so she couldn't see my shit-eating grin.
free for the fifth time, I headed back the way I came with an extra
spring in my step. Benny Blanco and his lady friend were still on
their bench, now surrounded by a legion of hungry pigeons. It also
looked like one of those ungrateful birds crapped on the brim of his
fedora, but Benny didn't seem to notice.
after the hour-long return trip to my neck of the woods, the coffee
tumbler I left behind was still sitting atop the ticket dispenser,
which was awesome because it cost be twenty bucks. But even though I
knew its contents would still be hot, I didn't dare take a sip, no
matter how badly I needed a caffeine jolt at that point. For all I
knew, some crazy bastard came along and used it for a piss
jar...maybe even my bounty-hunting, fly-swatting buddy.
I'd been dreading this day for weeks, everything suddenly seemed to
be going my way. With this run of good luck, I should have stopped by 7-Eleven on the way home and grabbed me some lottery tickets. As for 12 Angry Men, the film remains compulsively watchable and - considering our current cultural turmoil - might be even more thematically relevant than it was in 1957. And who knows, maybe someday we can all be like Juror #8.