12 Angry Men has had a long history of production and revision, from short teleplay to major Broadway productions. Reginald Rose first found inspiration for 12 Angry Men when he served on a jury in a manslaughter case, over which the jurors fought bitterly for some eight hours. This became the impetus for the teleplay, 12 Angry Men, which aired on CBS as a live one-hour drama. It was immediately successful and led to further development, culminating in its film version in 1957, starring Henry Fonda and directed by Sidney Lumet. It was first produced for the stage in 1964. It was filmed again for television in 1997, starring George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon, and first appeared on Broadway in 2004.
Dramatically, 12 Angry Men is an excellent example of the mid-20th century American style of socially conscious, psychologically driven realism, depicting everyday individuals in everyday situations. In form, the play is a perfect piece of naturalism, occurring in real time and running continuously, even between acts, for the length of the drama.
Historically, we can look at the play in the context of its original film release date, 1957. The United States was in a politically transitional time. The Civil Rights Movement was well underway with the Brown vs. Board of Education decision passed in 1954 and the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956. Many of the themes of racial and social inequity being played out in the drama were being played out on the national scene.
Note: It is upon that 2004 Broadway script that this guide is based.