Joseph Sweeney, Character Actor, Born in Philadelphia

The 1957 movie Twelve Angry Men was a Box Office flop. Now critics regard it one of the most important films of the 20th Century. Institutions in liberal arts, law, medicine, and public relations often refer to Twelve Angry Men in their studies and general conversations. I don’t want to go into details of the film. That information you’ll find on the Internet. I am writing this assuming you have seen or read about the movie. Juror number 9 is Joseph Sweeney, a very intelligent and observant older man. Henry Fonda is juror 4, fair minded, compassionate, and likeable.

There are two eye witnesses to the alleged crime. A 18 year old boy is charged with stabbing his father.

–an older man:
–A woman, middle aged. According to her testimony, she saw the murder through the last two windows of a passing elevated subway. She was sleeping, awoke on a this hot night, turned around in bed, and said she saw the boy stabbing his father.

To make certain let me write this:

Juror 8. Henry Fonda
Juror 9. Joseph Sweeney

At first, Henry Fonda as Juror 8 has the lone verdict of Not Guilty. Juror 9 changes his mind to Not Guilty after another vote. He says pointing to Juror 8. “This man has held to his vote against us. It is not easy to stand up against the hostility and ridicule of others. He does not say the boy is Not Guilty he just is not sure. I respect his motives. He gambled for some support and I gave it to him. The boy on trial is probably guilty but I want to be hear more.”

After that, Henry Fonda becomes more assertive. He asked if he could see Exhibit A, a large pocket knife, the murder weapon. Holding the knife, Juror 4 says to Fonda “Take A look at this knife. It’s a very unusual knife. I’ve never seen anyone like it. The pawn shop owner, who sold the knife to the defendant, said it was the only one of its kind. With more assertion, Juror 4 puts the knife tip down into the table making a small hole. Fonda stands up and puts an exact duplicate of the murder weapon, also tip down, on the table. The other 11 jurors make that huge sigh of amazement. No one changes their mind but the case against the defendant gets some small cracks. One juror opens the door and gives it to the policeman.

Later on a Juror number 3, a vary hostile and bitter man, shouts his version what happened. Pointing his hand, Juror 3 said “the kid was seen stabling his father using that knife. ” Mr. Sweeney said “that’s not the knife, don’t you remember.”

A key witness for the prosecution is an elderly man who lives in a apartment right below the defendant. This frail man said he heard a violent argument in the above floor; went to his door; opened it; and saw the boy fleeing from the building. After closer analysis, at least six of the 12 jurors say the old man really could not have done that. Another juror asked what motive could this old man have in lying.

“Attention” Juror 9 or Mr. Sweewney says. He continues “It’s just that I looked at him for a very long time. He was an old man in a torn jacket. I mean to appear in court like that. And he was dragging one leg behind him and trying to hide it because he was ashamed. This is a quiet, frightened, insignificant old man who has never done anything in his entire life. Nobody knows him and nobody quotes him. Nobody seeks his advice in 75 years. That’s a sad thing to be a nobody. A man like this needs to be quoted just once. It’s very important to him.” Another juror asked Sweeney if he thought the old man lied. Replied Sweeney continues “No, he would”t really lie. But perhaps he made himself believe he heard the yelling and saw the boy run from the building.”

The final knife, pun intended, aimed at the prosecution concerns a gesture from Juror 4, that reminded Juror 9 of something. Juror 4 takes off his glasses. { Like I said, Philadelphia born people are special}. With glasses off, he rubs the bridge of his nose and:

Juror 9: Don’t you feel well.
Juror 4: I feel quite well, thank you.
A juror interrupts him and now Sweeney gets real angry.
Juror 9: At this point, I am talking to the man on your left. I was wondering why you rub nose your like that.
Juror 8: I am rubbing because it bothers me.
Juror 9: The glasses have made that impression on the bridge of your nose. That must be very annoying
Juror 4: It very annoying. Let’s get…

Juror 9: “The women testifying had those same marks on her nose. She kept rubbing them during her time on the Witness Stand. Think back. This woman was about 45 making a tremendous effort to look 35. She was wearing clothes that should have been worn by a much younger woman.”

All juror minus one recognized that her testimony was unreliable. Waking up, she could have been groggy; everything happened in a split second, and her eyesight was questionable. No one wears their glasses to bed. This convinces 11 of the 12 jurors.

One final man still votes guilty. He harbors hatred against all young male. His own son left home at around 18 and the man has no idea where the boy is. It obvious that Juror 3 is trying to transfer his feelings to the young boy on trial. After a final outburst and in tears, he votes Not Guilty.

Our system of Criminal Law we all know dictates. “To find a person Guilty you must be certain beyond a Reasonable Doubt that this person committed the crime. On the other hand, you do not have to be certain they did not commit the crime in order to find them Not Guilty. This has saved more people than all the brilliant testimony .

The movie Twelve Angry Men has some great character studies.


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