12 Angry Men Group Dynamics

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12 Angry Men Group Dynamics: The classic 1957 movie "12 Angry Men" has a long history as a teaching tool in business school courses about management, group dynamics, group decision making and psychology. An Academy Award nominee for Best Picture of 1957, this film provides an entertaining and engrossing video case study in these areas. 

The story was originally entitled "Twelve Angry Men" (with the number spelled out) and first appeared as a live television play in September 1954.

It was shown as part of the "Westinghouse Studio One" anthology series on the CBS television network. A year later, in 1955, a stage adaptation was produced under the same title. Various remakes and new adaptations for the stage, film and television have appeared in subsequent years (including some foreign versions), with variations in the title.

Still, the 1957 movie version, starring Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb, is often cited as the definitive adaptation. It received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Other members of the jury were portrayed by Ed Begley (senior), E. G. Marshall, Jack Warden, Jack Klugman, Ed Binns, Martin Balsam, Joseph Sweeney, Robert Webber, John Fiedler and George Voskovec.

Pros

  • Very well-written and well-acted
  • Memorable
  • Realistic presentation of group dynamics

Cons

  • As a work of fiction, it may not resonate with those who prefer actual case studies
  • It may seem dated to contemporary viewers

Story Line in Summary: The story is about a jury's deliberations in what appears to be an open-and-shut murder case, in which the defendant initially seems to be guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. Eleven jurors are ready to convict without discussion. The twelfth juror, played by Henry Fonda, votes "not guilty" mainly to provoke discussion, out of fairness to the accused.

He, too, admits at the start that the evidence against the accused seems to be overwhelming.

Most jurors are fair-minded, and want to do the right thing. They also represent a cross-section of society, with differing backgrounds and life experiences that come into play when they get down to discussing the case in detail:

  • Architect (Henry Fonda)
  • Stock broker or financial advisor (E. G. Marshall)
  • Advertising executive (Robert Webber)
  • Football coach (Martin Balsam, who plays the jury foreman)
  • Salesman (Jack Warden)
  • Elderly retiree (Joseph Sweeney)
  • Immigrant (George Voskovec)
  • Childhood spent in a rough neighborhood (Jack Klugman)

Some of the jurors, however, have key character flaws, reflective of many people within society at large as well as within companies:

  • The yes-man who is afraid to stand against the majority and thus is easily swayed (Robert Webber)
  • The shallow, impatient man who has no interest in making the right decision, only in making a quick decision so that he can move on to other things that concern him more (Jack Warden)
  • The bigot who is driven by prejudice, even malice (Ed Begley)
  • The man who jumps to improper conclusions about the case, by seeing it through the lens of an unfortunate experience of his own (Lee J. Cobb)
  • The foreman who struggles to maintain order, and who becomes frustrated and passive when he cannot (Martin Balsam)

The juror (Henry Fonda) willing to stand alone is highly analytical and logical, as well as courageous in opposing the majority. In the end, he persuades all the others to vote "not guilty" and acquit the defendant. The climactic scene is when the final holdout for a guilty verdict (Lee J. Cobb) realizes that he had been projecting his difficult relationship with his own son on the case, in effect taking out his anger with his son on the young defendant in the trial. The film offers an excellent case study in group dynamics that is memorable, entertaining and realistic.

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