The Music of 12 Angry Men (1957)

by Rob Vuono, Jr.
(Washington, DC)

Movie Poster for 12 Angry Men (1957)

Movie Poster for 12 Angry Men (1957)

If you get a chance, check this out. This is the final scene from "12 Angry Men" (1957), and the music cue is very powerful (the acting is also, of course). What I admire about this scene is how the character played by Lee J. Cobb (Juror #3), and our opinion of him, is transformed; from an adversarial, loud mouthed, close minded, opinionated bully that is hard to like at all, in a few fleeting moments we see his back-story, and realize the cause of his outward appearance. This is really a heartbreaking scene, especially when he tosses his wallet on the table, and the picture of him, with his son (who we gather from comments at the beginning of the film is estranged from him) falls out into view, and we realize that all of his anger and bluster is a direct result of the confusion, frustration, and hurt stemming from his difficult relationship with his son, which is a direct result of his own relationship with his unloving, strict, and demanding father. We realize this man was shaped by his father, and is now unable to express the love he really has for his own son, and has lost him. The music cue starts at 5:05, very quietly, and ebbs and flows to the very end, along with the poignant imagery. This character (#3) is left alone at the table, and the character played by Henry Fonda (Juror #7), who throughout the film is the brunt of #3's vitriol, helps him on with his coat in an act that shows his compassion and understanding of this man, now broken and ashamed. Kenyon Hopkins, the composer, uses just oboe and percussion to start the cue, and builds from there, following the camera, and all of the emotions it is recording on film, to the final fade.

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