Whenever the ABA Journal has conducted a survey to find the best legal movies or the best legal plays, Twelve Angry Men has made the list. The black-and-white 1957 film about a deadlocked jury coming to a consensus in a murder trial has become a classic, one of Henry Fonda’s most striking tales. As a play, Twelve Angry Men is performed around the world, in many languages, in theaters large and small.
But the path to becoming a classic was not a simple one, and the man behind the script was not a simple man. In Reginald Rose and the Journey of 12 Angry Men, author and business professor Phil Rosenzweig has written the first biography about the man who brought 12 Angry Men to screen, first as a television program and then as a film.
Rosenzweig has long used the film in his classes to discuss group dynamics. Delving deeper into Rose’s work, he uncovers the background of one of the unsung pioneers of the television age. In addition to 12 Angry Men, Rose also wrote The Defenders, a seminal television show that has also been named by the ABA as one of the most important legal TV series ever.
One of the striking things Rosenzweig has observed about Twelve Angry Men is the ownership that two industries feel towards it. For legal professionals, this is a script about the law and a commentary on justice; business management circles feel equally certain that this is a script about the art of persuasion and getting buy-in.
Rose claimed that the idea to write about a jury stemmed from an experience he had when called for jury service himself. Through careful examination of the criminal dockets during the time, Rosenzweig has identified the real-life (but little-known) case he believes gave Rose that inspiration. In this Modern Law Library episode, he discusses his discovery with the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles, and shares his opinion about why this script has stood the test of time.