At the beginning of the film, the cameras are all positioned above eye level and mounted with wide-angle lenses to give the appearance of greater distance between the subjects. As the film progresses the cameras slip down to eye level. By the end of the film, nearly all of it is shot below eye level, in close-up and with telephoto lenses to increase the encroaching sense of claustrophobia.
Director Sidney Lumet had the actors all stay in the same room for several hours on end and do their lines over and over without filming them. This was to give them a real taste of what it would be like to be cooped up in a room with the same people.
Because the film failed to make a profit, Henry Fonda never received his deferred salary. Despite this setback, he always regarded this film as one of the three best he ever made. The others being The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and The Ox-Bow Incident (1942).
Henry Fonda disliked watching himself on film, so he did not watch the whole film in the screening room. However, before he walked out, he said quietly to director Sidney Lumet, "Sidney, it's magnificent."
The ethnic background of the teenaged suspect was deliberately left unstated. For the purposes of the film, the important facts were that he was not of Northern European ancestry, and that prejudice (or lack of it) from some jurors would be a major part of the deliberation process.
Henry Fonda immediately complained to director Sidney Lumet about the cheap backdrops outside the jury room windows when he walked on-set. "They look like sh*t. Hitch [Alfred Hitchcock (I)] had great backdrops, you could walk right in them", said Fonda, referring to the previous film he made with Hitchcock, The Wrong Man (1956). Lumet assured him that Director of Photography Boris Kaufman had a plan to make them work.
Only two jurors are ever identified by name throughout the film: Juror #8, named Mr. Davis, and Juror #9, named Mr. McCardle. All but two are identified by job or profession: Juror #1, called "High School Football Coach", Juror #2, called "Bank Teller", Juror #3, called "Beck & Call" and "Owns Messenger Service", Juror #4, called "Stock Broker", Juror #6, called "Painter", Juror #7, called "Salesman", Juror #8, called "Architect", Juror #10, called "Garage Owner", Juror #11, called "Watch Maker", and Juror #12, called "Advertising Exec".
Because of the demands of the film's low budget, if the lighting was set up for a shot that took place from one particular angle, all the shots from that same angle had to be filmed then and there. This meant that different sides of the same conversation were sometimes shot several weeks apart.
The jurors' entrance into the jury room is filmed in an overhead establishing shot, and the shots become progressively lower and tighter throughout the film, until the verdict is reached. For the closing shot of the jurors leaving the courthouse, they are again filmed from a wide, overhead angle. Sidney Lumet claimed that the final shot was filmed through with the widest lens used in the picture, emphasizing the sense of release from the jury room.
Juror #1, The Foreman, is the only one who never explains why he considers the defendant guilty or, later, not guilty. Actually, there is a very interesting psychological metaphor on the meta-level of this film, and of course, particularly concerning this character. Like a "Foreman", he leads and is not asked why he does what he does and how he does it; one simply assumes that he knows what he's doing. Later on, when he changes his mind, he still does not explain his decision, although from then on he does not lead anymore but follows. This is expressed via facial expression when he raises his hand to conclude that he now considers the defendant not guilty.
According to his autobiography, Henry Fonda was disappointed with United Artists' distribution strategy, and felt that the studio's approach had deprived the film of a chance at financial success. In particular, Fonda noted that UA placed it in theaters too large for a "small" film to fill, and in addition, did not re-release it after it won numerous awards.
A full ten years after this film was released, it inspired a plot on The Andy Griffith Show (1960), in which Aunt Bee Taylor plays the lone holdout juror (exactly like Henry Fonda's character) who steadfastly votes "not guilty". She repeatedly holds her vote even while up against the anger of the 11 other jurors (all men). In the end, Andy himself pieces together who actually committed the crime based on his interactions with another courtroom observer. The criminal on trial was played by a young Jack Nicholson.
Both this film and its source material are often used in teaching mid-to-upper levels of English in overseas schools and courses, and excerpts from the play are included in some textbooks. Language courses often require exercises in which the students can practice explaining, comparing and discussing a variety of qualities on any subject, and this film presents them amply: A multitude of varying characters (polite 11, thoughtful 9, biased 10, etc) varying approaches (stubborn 3, open-minded 2, uninterested 7, methodical 4, etc) varying personalities (weak 1, meek 2, aggressive 10, annoying 12, etc) all kinds of reactions, facial expressions, etc. The language used by certain characters is also the subject of discussion points in classes about how to express oneself in certain situations, such as 4's diplomatic expression of "It's no secret that children from slum backgrounds are potential menaces to society" versus 10's very rude "The kids who crawl out of these places are real trash" while they are essentially trying to say the same thing.
The movies mentioned by Juror #4 in the double feature he saw are "The Scarlet Circle" and "The Amazing Mrs. Bainbridge" (wrongly named by him as "The Remarkable Mrs. Bainbridge"). Neither of them exist in real-life.
As of 2016, this is the shortest movie in the IMDb top ten, as well as the only one in the top ten to be under two hours in length. It is also the only movie in the IMDb top thirty to be under 100 minutes in length (the next film to have a two-digit run time is City Lights (1931), at #35).
Speaking at a screening of the film during the 2010 Fordham University Law School Film festival, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that seeing the film while she was in college influenced her decision to pursue a career in law. She was particularly inspired by immigrant Juror #11's monologue on his reverence for the American justice system. She also told the audience of law students that, as a lower-court judge, she would sometimes instruct juries to not follow the film's example, because most of the jurors' conclusions are based on speculation, not fact. Sotomayor noted that events such as Juror #8 entering a similar knife into the proceedings, doing outside research into the case matter in the first place and ultimately the jury as a whole making broad, wide-ranging assumptions far beyond the scope of reasonable doubt (such as the inferences regarding the "Old Woman" wearing glasses) would never be allowed to occur in a real-life jury situation, and would, in fact, have resulted in a mistrial (assuming, of course, that applicable law permitted the content of jury deliberations to be revealed).
The State Bar Associations of all (at that time) 48 states were given preview showings of the picture prior to its press previews. Subsequent to the film's release, the American Bar Association honored the film for "contributing to greater public understanding and appreciation of the American system of justice."
The melody Juror #7 whistles before Juror #8's re-enactment of the handicapped man walking to the door is "Dance of the Cuckoos", which is also the theme song for the Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy series of comedy shorts.
For many years, only the first half of the kinescope of the television version of the play was broadcast live on September 20, 1954 (Studio One in Hollywood: Twelve Angry Men (1954)) was thought to survive, and had been in the possession of the Museum of Television and Radio since 1976. In 2003 a complete 16mm kinescope was discovered in the collection of Samuel Leibowitz (former defense attorney and judge) and was also acquired by the museum.
According to Jack Klugman (Juror #5) in the making-of documentary on the Special Edition DVD, his character was supposed to be about 20-21 years old and olive-complected (possibly Italian), thereby giving more weight to his speech about being a "slum kid", and having a knowledge of switchblade knives. Klugman wasn't sure he was right for the part, given that he was 35 at the time, and is Caucasian, but he was reassured by Sidney Lumet that it would still work.
The story could have been set in any large city; although it's not mentioned by name, the city is obviously New York City, as evidenced by the sighting of the Woolworth Building, the Yankee tickets held by Juror #7 and the steps of the County Courthouse shown in the opening and closing scenes.
Most of the hard-working (relatively inexperienced) crew were longshoremen. Because there wasn't enough movie work to feed them all year, they'd have two union cards: their Local 52 cards and their ILA cards.
In 12 Angry Men (1997), Lee J. Cobb's character was played by George C. Scott, making it the second time Scott played a character on film that had been originated by Cobb. The first was the character of "Lieutenant Kinderman" in The Exorcist III (1990), the same character Cobb played in The Exorcist (1973), and on stage, Scott portrayed Willy Loman in a 1975 revival of "Death of a Salesman", the role originated by Cobb.
When John Calley was running United Artists from 1993-96, he gave an interview to "The New Yorker", in which he discussed United Artists' continuing rights to the project, and said he had looked into a possible remake that would have starred Michelle Pfeiffer, and been set around the 1992 Los Angeles riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King incident trial verdicts.
Jack Lemmon appeared in Mister Roberts (1955) with Henry Fonda, in which he takes over Fonda's position of Cargo Officer when Fonda is transferred off the U.S.S. Reluctant. In 12 Angry Men (1997), Lemmon played the same juror that Fonda played in this film.
In 1981 a Norwegian version of the film was made by NRK fjernsynsteatret (Norsk RikskringKasting), broadcast in 1982 and called Tolv edsvorne menn (1982). The plot closely followed the American version.
At 01:05:30 Juror #1 (Martin Balsam) stands by the window with Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) and talks about a storm during a game and a kid named Slattery. Balsam is the father of Talia Balsam, who is married to actor John Slattery (I).
During the course of the movie, the number "3" appears several times. The first three minutes are the only ones not set in the jury room; the courtroom where the trial happens is the 228 (2+2+8=12; 1+2=3); Juror #8 states that he has three children; at one point Juror #7 orders the others to shut up, since, as jurors, they are receiving a salary of $3.00s per day; at another point Juror #6 comments that he spent three days painting a house; Juror #4 explains that the crime happened three months before the trial; and finally, Juror #3 is the one who confronts Juror #8 about the innocence of the accused.
This film inspired a classic sketch on Inside Amy Schumer (2013). In it, a jury of 12 men (including one played by Jeff Goldblum) are deciding whether to convict Amy Schumer of not being sexy and attractive enough to have her own television show. Ultimately, the men vote to "acquit" Schumer of crimes against television viewers.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Before it is revealed in the "secret written ballot" who changed his verdict from "guilty" to "not guilty", there is a hint as to who was the one that changed his vote. If you count the ballots, including the "not guilty" ballot, the number of ballots read by Juror #1 (Martin Balsam) is 9. As it turns out, Juror #9 (Joseph Sweeney) was the one who changed his vote.
Jurors #6, #7 and #10 are the only jurors to vote "not guilty" in the order that matches their juror numbers; Juror #6 is the sixth juror to vote "not guilty", #7 is the seventh juror and #10 is the tenth.