Seeing Cinema in a New Light: Criticism, Essays and Observations about Classic Cinema

1950s Movies, Classic Movies, Courtroom Drama, Editorials, Film Criticism and Analysis

Why Juror 8 of 12 Angry Men (1955) was Wrong on Every Conceivable Level

Henry Fonda from 12 Angry Men

Henry Fonda from 12 Angry Men

#3: Cherry Picking

Cherry picking is the art of dismantling an opponent’s argument by selectively attacking a small part of what he said while ignoring other things that he might have said. For example, imagine someone said, “I want this homeless encampment gone; the homeless are walking around in filthy rags and smell awful. They are also shooting drugs out in the open and threatening bystanders for money.” It would be cherry picking if you said, “Just because they’re smelly doesn’t mean that they should leave. We can start a clothing drive to get them clean clothes. We can provide mobile shower stations like they did in San Francisco and Detroit.”

Why would this be cherry picking? Because you are trying to make it seem as if the only thing that’s bothering your opponent is how the homeless look and smell, when he also has issues with their drug usage and aggressive panhandling.

Going back to 12 Angry Men, Juror 8 used this ploy most infamously in the scene where he grills E.G. Marshall’s character (The Stockbroker) about the details of a movie that he’d seen earlier in the week. After trying to recall what movie he saw, The Stockbroker misremembers the details, causing the other jurors to dismiss his point about the defendant being guilty for not remembering what movie he saw on the night of his father’s murder.

E.G. Marshall-12 Angry Men

E.G. Marshall in 12 Angry Men

The reason why this is cherry picking is that the jurors are trying to pretend that his entire basis for finding the defendant guilty hinged on not recalling the movie he’d seen. But that wasn’t the basis of The Stockbroker’s reasoning at all. His reasoning was that the defendant’s alibi about being at the movies didn’t hold up because 1) on top of the defendant not remembering what movie he saw 2) no one could vouch for him being at the theater (as in, the ticket taker, usher, other movie goers, etc.). The Stockbroker’s argument was never just a simple matter of, “He couldn’t remember the movie he saw; therefore, he is guilty.” That would be ridiculous. Yet it’s precisely because of how ridiculous that line of thinking would be that has Juror 8 singling it out as The Stockbroker’s only argument.

1 Comment

  1. Terry

    Many people will believe a slick-talking politician over one who may be harsh but tells the truth. This is basically what this film is about. I think the writer of the movie (and the play) did it deliberately. He was making fools of those who believe the smooth-talking Fonda who has absolutely no facts on his side, over the other rougher men who did have the facts to back up their stance.

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