The story is a simple one: 12 jurors are asked to decide the fate of a young man who is accused of killing his father. If guilty, he will be sentenced to the electric chair. Otherwise he goes free. The evidence is overwhelmingly against him: Two eyewitnesses, a murder weapon known to be bought by the killer, and an alibi that he couldn't remember during questioning. Open and shut, but one juror stands alone against the other 11, who'd like to get home in time for dinner. And with that single "not guilty" vote, Henry Fonda's Juror #8 sets off the titular anger.
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Joanne Woodward's performance in the title role is pretty much the only reason to see the film today -- mental illness has been handled with much more grace in the years since. Woodward deftly handles the difficult task of running through three characters: At first she's Eve White, a troubled and plain young woman, and soon enough Eve Black, a brazen hussie, comes to the forefront, doing battle with Eve White. As her psyche continues to degenerate, a third identity, Jane, comes to the forefront. Eve's psychiatrists are offered up as heroes -- looking back at them today reveals that they're all total chumps -- and through a series of absurd hypnotisms she eventually comes to grips with her past abuse and, like that, gets well.
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A Madison Avenue advertising executive, Rath lives in a comfortable Connecticut bedroom community and commutes in and out of the city, leaving him little time for his wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) and his funny, television-addicted kids. Betsy, who in typical '50s suburban style is deeply concerned about keeping up with the Joneses, pushes Rath to find a better job, and he agrees even as he realizes that more work and stress is not what he wants. In fact, he's heading toward what we now call a mid-life crisis, although they didn't have a word for it back then.
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Army vet Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) has just come back to his hometown of Fresno, bringing with him presents that he acquired working as a mechanic on a ship in the Far East. Everyone's happy to see him and receive his shower of gifts and cash from his beaming-with-pride parents to his extremely blonde girlfriend Polly (Barbara Lawrence), who's upset initially to only receive a doll and then beams with joy when Nick points out the ring the doll is holding. Then Nick mentions the Mandarin slippers that he brought for his dad and everyone goes quiet. Turns out there's a reason that his dad hasn't stood up since Nick got home, he delivered a truckload of produce to a produce dealer in San Francisco, Mike Figlia, who refused to pay, got Papa Garcos roaring drunk, and sent him on the road, where he crashed and had to have his legs amputated. Nick vows to get even if he has to "gouge the money out of Mike Figlia's corpse."
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James Stewart seriously runs away with this movie. As skeptical reporter P.J. McNeal, he's tasked with writing a story about a convicted cop killer, 11 years after he's been put away for life. As he investigates, he slowly encounters piece after piece of evidence which exonerates the man -- yet the corrupt Chicago legal and police system won't hear any of it. Based on a true case in 1932, Call Northside 777 was also the first film shot on location in Chi-town.
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People may forget that The Exorcist, recently screened at the Boston Film Festival and now hitting wide re-release, was a wildly independent movie when that particular movement was really getting in gear. Shocking and blasphemous-beyond-words in 1973, the story of a sweet little girl's demonic possession still has a renegade feel today -- the introductory exposition takes nearly forty minutes, the use of profane language is disgusting and thrilling, even by today's standards, and the long battle at the film's end is relentless.
Continue reading: The Exorcist Review
It's been 26 years since "The Exorcist" raised the bar for horror movies, trading more on its chilling psychological effects than its ability to provide cheap spooks.
Because its story of a 12-year-old girl (Linda Blair) possessed by the devil quarries so deeply in the viewer's psyche, it remains more frightening than any teenage slasher flick (save, perhaps, the original "Halloween") -- even if it has become every-so-slightly campy with age.
The newly remastered print being released this month under the idiotic title of "The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen" is padded with cutting room floor footage and souped up with a digitally enhanced soundtrack and sound effects -- much of which actually distracts from the film's classic scariness.
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