This week, a mistrial was declared in the case against Gregg Thomas, who was arrested in connection with the murder of off-duty Baltimore police officer Sgt. Keith Mcneill. The prosecutors failed to hand over ballistics evidence to the defense, evidence which Thomas’ attorney says is a “game changer” in the trial.
The evidence, from all available accounts, appears to exculpate Mr. Thomas from all wrongdoing in the officer’s death. Time will reveal whether this is the truth, but the proceedings this week reminded me of the film 12 Angry Men (1957) and the dutiful, honest approach that Juror 8 (played by Hollywood star Henry Fonda) exhibits in a noticeably prejudicial murder trial.
One of my favorite elements of this film is that every main character (that being, each of the jurors in the film) is never mentioned by name. Near the end of the film, it must be conceded, two jurors reveal their names; but only their last names, and immediately following the rendered verdict. This reveals an integral detail about the film and the experience it wishes its viewers to have: they choose to remove any detail that would distract the viewer from the case being deliberated upon. The jury is composed of members that you may dislike, but only for their opinions, not as individuals. Every argument expressed in the jury room is simply a part of the necessary judicial proceedings.
There are other films that do not reveal the name of an important character. Take Marilyn Monroe’s famous appearance in The Seven Year Itch (1955) as an example. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’re most likely aware of the iconic moment when Monroe’s dress shoots up beneath the gust of the subway vent beneath her feet.
However, despite the landmark success this role had on her career, Monroe’s character was simply referred to as “The Girl” throughout the film.
You’re probably more familiar with an example from A Christmas Story (1983). Remember Ralphie’s dad? The one who bought a leg lamp for the front window and had a convulsive fit about his son’s vocabulary? He was never given a name, not even from his wife. He’s known only as The Old Man. The distinction between these instances and 12 Angry Men is that there is intentional significance beneath the absence of names in the latter.
Another consideration to bear in mind when discussing the artistic importance of this film is its nearly exclusive use of one set piece: the jury room. This film is adamant in its focus on the details of the case. It strips away the decorations of a Hollywood moneymaker with its lack of named characters, fast pace of action, and quick-adjusting set locations. In its place, you will discover a fascinating film that’s firmly committed to the establishment of a just verdict.
The video is linked below. See you next week!