Video Event of the Week: Is it Universal's DVD of the gloriously nutty 1943 Maria Montez/Jon Hall Technicolor Arabian Nights fantasy Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves? Might Summit Entertainment's Blu-ray of Nicholas Cage's latest phoned-in performance FX-laden thriller Knowing get the nod? Or for all you PBS fans out there, could Acorn's Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Movie Collection -- Set 4 conceivably be The One?
All worthy, to be sure, and if I can shnorr a copy of Ali Baba from Universal I'm definitely going to have something to say about that down the line, but right now, for my money, it's got to be Sony Pictures Classics™ new DVD of 12, director Nikita Mikhalkov's 2007 nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, and -- you guessed it -- a not so loose remake of Sidney Lumet's classic I the Jury drama 12 Angry Men.
Actually, it's not so loose at all, and it's a testament to the craft of Reginald Rose's original teleplay (written for the CBS Studio One anthology series; yes, it's a product of the Golden Age of TV Drama) that its template still works so well in a foreign context. Director/co-scripter Mikhalkov has opened it up a bit with some flashbacks of the war in Chechyna (the defendant -- a Latino kid in the original -- is now an ethnic Chechen) and there are some ironic touches that non-Russians probably won't get; the effete advertising guy played by Robert Webber in the Lumet version is now a television producer modeled after Russian media mogul Dmitri Lesnevsky and Milkhakov himself plays the jury foreman who is revealed to be a Secret Service operative, which has led some to label the film objectively pro-Putin. But basically it's the same story of guys from diverse backgrounds thrown together in a pressure cooker of prejudice and resentments; it still works like gangbusters and it's still a non-pareil actor's showcase. The Russian-language cast is more than up to the occasion, obviously, and while not every character has an exact analog to the Hollywood original, I'd be remiss if it I didn't mention Sergei Garmash as the Lee J. Cobb last hold-out juror; he's simultaneously scary and heartbreaking.
Here's the trailer to give you a little taste.
Sony's DVD version features a razor-sharp transfer, and the sub-titles (which have been translated by somebody with an understanding of contemporary vernacular English, thank you very much) are easy to read and appear, blessedly, outside the film frame.
Bottom line: A terrific new take on a classic piece; you can -- and most definitely should -- pre-order it here.
And now, since things are going to be relatively quiet around here until Monday, here's yet another fun and (obviously) relevant project for us all to contemplate --
Most Memorable Film Featuring a Courtroom Scene!!!
And my totally top of my head Top Five is:
5. A Matter of Life and Death [aka Stairway to Heaven] (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947)
RAF pilot David Niven, who should have died when his plane is shot down by the Nazis, has to defend himself in heaven in front of a celestial jury and a prosecutor (Raymond Massey) who hates the Brits for causing his death in the American revolution. A delirious romantic fantasy, obviously, and one of the Powell/Pressburger team's most jaw-dropping visual creations.
4. The Devil and Daniel Webster [aka All That Money Can Buy] (William Dieterle, 1941)
Edward Arnold is Daniel Webster. Walter Huston is a very Yankee devil. James Craig is the poor schmuck who has his eternal soul argued over in front of a jury of the American Damned. Bernard Herrman supplies the brilliantly satanic fiddle music. Act now.
3. The Trial (Orson Welles, 1962)
For obvious reasons. Seriously, if people ask you to name a second great performance by Anthony Perkins -- after Psycho, duh -- this is the one that should immediately come to mind.
2. The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, 1982)
A down on his luck alcoholic lawyer (Paul Newman) takes on a medical malpractice suit. Less of a courtroom drama than a story of personal redemption, but Newman's summation speech above is one of the all-time champs.
And the numero uno courtroom scene flick, don't give me any grief about this or I swear I'll go to your house and ring your doorbell and run, quite obviously is --
1. Bananas (Woody Allen, 1971)
Fielding Mellish: I move for a mistrial. Do you realize there's not a single homosexual on that jury?
Offscreen voice: Yes there is.
Mellish: Oh really? Which one? Is it the big guy at the end?....
Oh, just watch the whole thing. I especially like the fact that J. Edgar Hoover is played by a large black woman.
Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?