Remember When Juror #3 Was the Villain?


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ne forum on “great liberal films” puts the 1957 courthouse classic, 12 Angry Men, at the top of the list. When the creator of the list is asked why this movie is liberal, he responds casually, “Abandoning the easy and angry answer and seeking the truth. That's liberal to me.”

The movie is set fully in a jury room. The twelve males in the jury room are assessing the case of a young Hispanic man accused of murder. Sound familiar? The protagonist of the movie is Juror #8, played in the film by Henry Fonda. The antagonist is Juror #3, played by Lee J. Cobb.

Liberals, including author Reginald Rose, see themselves as the Fonda character. Rose’s script notes are not terribly subtle about #8’s virtues: “A quiet, thoughtful, gentle man. A man who sees all sides of every question and constantly seeks the truth. A man of strength tempered with compassion. Above all, he is a man who wants justice to be done and will fight to see that it is.”

Not surprisingly, Rose caricatures Juror #3 as sort of a cartoon conservative: “A very strong, very forceful, extremely opinionated man within whom can be detected a streak of sadism. He is a humorless man who is intolerant of opinions other than his own and accustomed to forcing his wishes and views upon others.”

Like every other black and white movie of that decade, 12 Angry Men was supposed to be a parable about McCarthyism. As Michael Margolies wrote in these pages five years ago, the movie reflected “a supposedly callous society's indifference to the less fortunate and willingness to unjustly sustain false accusations.”

When the Fonda character begins to sway the jurors, not to the young Latino’s innocence, but to the absence of conclusive evidence of his guilt, the Cobb character begins to f ume. "What's the matter with you people?” he shouts finally in disgust. “This kid is guilty! He's got to burn! We're letting him slip thru our fingers here."

Remember when liberals thought Cobb was the bad guy?

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