RIP Sidney Lumet, Master of Cinema
I am the first to admit I have not seen as many Lumet films as I would like; I’ve only seen six of his films. But I loved all six of those films. I also recently finished reading his book Making Movies and realized there were so many of his films that I need to see. I would recommend that book to anyone who just likes watching movies and especially to anyone who is thinking of going into filmmaking. He was a passionate filmmaker and if you couldn’t tell that from his films, that book removes any doubt. So I’m going to talk about those films that I have seen, as well as a few I have but that were nominated for Academy Awards. Lumet himself was nominated for Best Director four times and Best Original Screenplay once. Sadly, he never won a competitive Academy Award, although he received an Honorary Oscar in 2005.
12 Angry Men, 1957
An unquestionable masterpiece, 12 Angry Men was Lumet’s debut feature. Few directors, aside from maybe Orson Welles, had such a strong debut as Lumet with this film. This is a true hymn to justice. The film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. It lost all three awards to David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai. I first saw this film on PBS a few years back and was just blown away. After reading Lumet’s book, I now fully understand what immense detail went in to the making of this film. Astounding.
The Fugitive Kind, 1960
I saw this film on TCM last year when I was on a Brando kick. Although it is at times kind of melodramatic, it features some knockout performances from Brando, Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward and Maureen Stapleton. Again, after reading Lumet’s book I feel like I need to revisit this film to look for the details he mentioned. Also, for any David Lynch fans, Brando’s character was a huge influence on the Nicolas Cage character in Wild at Heart.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night, 1962
This was actually the first Lumet movie I ever saw. I was in Los Angeles in 2005 for my Uncle and Aunt’s anniversary and the hotel I was staying at had TCM (this was before I became an addict) and it was during Katharine Hepburn day of their Summer Under The Stars. I watched this film and Suddenly, Last Summer and boy what a double feature that was. Hepburn was nominated for Best Actress for both. There’s this great story in Lumet’s Making Movies where he talks about his first encounter with Hepburn. What a lady she must have been.
This movie. I love this movie. This is probably my favorite of all the Lumet films I’ve seen and definitely my favorite of all of Pacino’s performances (and yes, I have seen all the Godfather films). Another film I saw thanks to TCM, Lumet again makes a film about the importance of justice and this time paints the portrait of a truly great real-life American hero. The film was nominated for Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, though it did not win either. In it Pacino becomes Serpico and you see both his life on the police force, as well as his messy personal life. It’s a beautiful portrait and an amazing pairing of artists.
Murder on the Orient Express, 1974
I have always meant to see this film, yet for some reason never have. After reading Lumet’s book I just have to see this film (it’s high on my Netflix queue, trust me). He writes about how when they filmed the opening train sequence they could only film it early on a Sunday morning because half of his actors were doing theater work in London at the time. So they flew them all in and set up the shot and it had to get the shot right the first time because they couldn’t shoot it twice. What pressure! The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one: Best Supporting Actress Ingrid Bergman (won), Best Actor Albert Finney, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Dramatic Score and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Dog Day Afternoon, 1975
This was probably the second Lumet film I ever saw; I saw it just a little while before I saw 12 Angry Men. It features another wonderful performance from Al Pacino, as well as from the incomparable John Cazale. In Lumet’s book he talks about how he filmed one of the most famous scenes – Pacino on the phone – using multiple cameras in order to capture the entire scene in one take, even though it went longer than the amount of film a camera holds. Pacino was exhausted by the time they finished and the result is pure cinematic magic. The film was nominated for six Academy Award, winning one:Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Actor Al Pacino, Best Supporting Actor Chris Sarandon, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.
I saw this one for the first time last Spring on TCM as well (maybe it was the same night as Serpico, I’m not sure…). What a movie. While I am a big fan of Rocky and will not dispute it winning Best Picture that year, Network would have been a worthy winner as well. It may well be my favorite performance from William Holden (I am a huge Bill fan) and am slightly sad that his subtle performance lost out to Peter Finch, brilliant as his was. What’s so crazy about this film is how it has become even more relevant today than it was 35 years ago. That’s true insight for you. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning four: Best Actor Peter Finch (won, posthumous), Best Actor William Holden, Best Supporting Actor Ned Beatty, Best Actress Faye Dunaway (won), Best Supporting Actress Beatrice Straight (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Director and Best Picture.
As a fan of Richard Burton I’ve been meaning to watch this movie, but the subject matter has made me shy away from it. Someday I promise to get over it and just watch it. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Actor Richard Burton, Best Supporting Actor Peter Firth and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Prince of the City, 1981
This is another film I’ve yet to see, but after reading Lumet’s book I can see it was a favorite of his. Not too surprising considering he co-wrote the screenplay. He and co-writer Jay Presson Allen received a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for their work, though they lost to Colin Welland for Chariots of Fire (yawn).
The Verdict, 1982
I cannot believe I have not seen this film. It’s on Instant Netflix, so I have no excuse (EDIT: Don’t watch the Instant Netflix version! It’s fullscreen and that is totally disrespectful to Lumet’s hard work. Aspect ratio is important, people). I need to get on this right away. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, though it did not win a single one: Best Actor Paul Newman, Best Supporting Actor James Mason, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture.
Running On Empty, 1988
Yet another of Lumet’s films I always meant to watch and never did, Running On Empty is the film that made River Phoenix a superstar a la James Dean. And sadly, we, too, lost him at a young age. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor River Phoenix and Best Original Screenplay.
Lumet was a true master of the art of filmmaking. He was a consummate professional on the set and went into to each of his projects with the utmost passion. He will be sorely missed.
Posted on April 9, 2011, in Classic Film and tagged 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Equus, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Murder on the Orient Express, Network, Prince of the City, Running On Empty, Serpico, Sidney Lumet, the Academy Awards, The Fugitive Kind, The Verdict. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.
You haven’t seen The Verdict yet?! Get on that STAT! It has Paul Newman’s best work as an actor.
Good article. Great movies. Age about Newman in The Verdict. Great Director!
Thanks Marya for the nice look back at the career of Sidney Lumet. I lived in New York for many years and eventually came to discover that Lumet lived only two blocks from me. I saw him in the street a number of times, but never spoke with him.
My five Lumet favorites are:
12 Angry Men
Prince of the City
He will be missed.
Great post! Sidney Lumet was seriously awesome!
My favorites are 12 Angry Men and Murder On the Orient Express.
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