Monday, August 30, 2010

Henry Fonda vs. Mel Gibson

Last night I watched two movies.  Ransom, the Mel Gibson movie from 1996 was first, then I just tuned in to Turner Classic Movies in time to catch 12 Angry Men (1957).  Let's look at the differences.

Both films had great directors.  12 Angry Men was directed by Sidney Lumet (b. 1924) and Ransom by Ron Howard (b. 1954).  Yet, 12 Angry Men is considered an "A List" classic film, and Ransom is certainly not.

Both films are remakes.  12 Angry Men was originally a 1954 teleplay on "Studio One in Hollywood."   Ransom was a remake of a 1956 film starring Glenn Ford called Ransom!, which was in turn a remake of a "United States Steel Hour" teleplay called "Fearful Decision" which aired in 1955.  (Side note, Mel Gibson owns an airline in his movie...Glenn Ford owns a vacuum cleaner company!)

According to Wikipedia (the all-knowing Internet resource!) Ransom has grossed over $309,000,000.  According to Robert Osborne (who I really do believe!) on TCM, 12 Angry Men didn't even earn Henry Fonda his $300,000 investment back.  It was not a very popular movie when it came out.

12 Angry Men was shot in 21 days, had a cast of only 16, and all of them are great actors.  (There are no women in the film at all.)  It was shot entirely in a two room set, except for the first few seconds of the film when the judge is giving his instructions to the jury, and the epilogue as they leave the courthouse. 

Ransom has a cast of 88 people by my count, and probably cost a fortune for all the location shooting.  The cast is also filled with famous and wonderful actors and actresses.  No matter what you think of Mel Gibson off screen, he is a talented and versatile actor in the movies.  Ransom also includes Rene Russo, Gary Senise, Lili Taylor, Delroy Lindo, and many others.  That's top shelf in my book.

Both movies have small details that bring tension and realism.  They are both actually realistic and possible.  There are not many camera tricks in Ransom, but as filming progressed for 12, they used longer lenses to give the film a feeling of the room closing in.  Plus, some of the close head shots were a bit unnerving.

Why will people be watching 12 Angry Men long after everyone has forgotten Ransom

One thought is that the caliber of acting is believable in 12, with the possible exception of Lee J. Cobb who gets a little carried away with his anger.  Ransom (I think) may have a bit too much over acting, violence and blood.

But when you look at the story line of each film, 12 Angry Men explains our rights and responsibilities as Americans.  It reaffirms everything our Constitution stands for.  It also takes a stand against prejudice, and shows that coming from a slum does not necessarily mean you are a criminal.  Each one should be judged by their actions, not their background.  It allows reason to triumph over bigotry.

Also, we may all be called for jury duty sometime, but how many of us will have our son kidnapped?  It is a matter of how we can relate to the story.

Ransom only shows that a man taking a stand against a criminal may or may not come out ahead.  It could have ended with his son being killed by the kidnappers, and almost did.  In my opinion, there was no reason for Gibson to fight Senise to the death at the end of the film.  There were hundreds of police and FBI watching, with guns drawn!

Well, that's what I think.  And BTW, I don't think I would have watched Ransom AFTER 12 Angry Men.  I like a good taste in my mouth!

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