I discovered Sidney Lumet films, pretty late in the day, for a film buff, though I was aware of some of his more famous work, since my teenage years. Some of the first films of his I watched were about a decade ago, The Appointment (1969), Serpico (1973), Murder on the Orient express (1974) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975). And the most recent movie of his I watched was, his feature length directorial debut, 12 Angry Men (1957).
Sidney LumetBeginnings
Sidney Lumet was born in Philadelphia, USA, on the 25th of June, 1924, to two veterans of the ‘Yiddish Theatre’. Thus, dramatic arts being in their bloodline, Lumet was lucky enough to be born into such a family. Lumet’s father was a Polish Jewish emigrant to the United States. Lumet’s mother died when he was still a child.

Sidney Lumet made his debut on Radio at the age of four, and by five he was already working on stage, as part of the ‘Yiddish Theatre’ group. Soon he was working on Broadway plays, and by eleven he starred in his first film, a short film called Papirossen (1935). At fifteen, he appeared on the feature film, One Third of a Nation (1939). But soon his acting career came to a standstill with the Second World War and him coming of age, and he was stationed in India and Burma as a radar repairmen between 1942 and 1946. On his return to the States, he formed an Off-Broadway theatre group, and became it’s director. Soon he evolved into being a highly respectable Television director. But it was only in his 30’s that he got to finally direct his very first feature film, 12 Angry Men (1957).
Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry MenSidney Lumet & Social Realism
I watched 12 Angry Men (1957), Lumet’s first big screen directorial venture, just late last month, when it was shown; projected on to a not so big – big screen; at the Ethnic Centre here. 12 Angry Men is about 12 angry jurors, headed by Henry Fonda.

A young Hispanic man is on trial for the murder of his intolerable father. As the juror’s are locked up in the room, to discuss the case, we find 11 of the juror’s having already made up their mind that the kid is guilty, except for one, Henry Fonda. It’s interesting to watch how effectively Fonda’s character creates doubt in each juror’s mind, and turns them one by one to agreeing with him on a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict, in this highly intellectualised film. A very intriguing character study of 12 varied unnamed men (simply known as Juror. #1, Juror. #2, Juror. #3 et al), stuck inside a room on a very hot day, with their temperatures rising to near boiling point. The film was nominated for three Oscars, including for ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’.

Beautifully directed, it’s a bridge between art cinema and a commercial venture, which veers more towards art cinema. Yet, Lumet never liked to make his films too artsy, but at the same time wasn’t interested in making an overtly decorated, visually appealing, meaningless film either. He liked a social message input, he loved realism, yet the kind that people would enjoy watching. Lumet abided by a good script, great dialogues and superb performances from his actors, testing them to the limits, rather than action.

I had seen the latter remake (1997 version) of this movie starring Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott, Edward James Olmos and Tony Danza, about a decade or so ago. Which too was a very good television adaptation. But the Lumet classic was a magnificent piece of social realism. In fact Sidney Lumet is known for films on Social Realism. Take Network (1976) for instance.

Faye Dunaway, on the phone, in a scene from, NETWORK

Faye Dunaway, on the phone, in a scene from, NETWORK (1976)

I watched Network, down under, in Sydney, back in 2008, when it was shown at the ‘Art Gallery of New South Wales’. We (my friends and I) use to  go and watch some great classic, and foreign language, movies at this Art Gallery in Sydney, while I resided there (2006-2008). Network is a fascinating tale of media manipulation (electronic media in this case) to get what they want. They’d do anything possible, to the extent of being inhumane to gain higher ratings for their show. The movie, staring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall and Peter Finch, shows how an ageing anchor, when fired, reacts in a strange way, and ends up being a martyr of sorts exploited by the television industry. The movie was nominated for 10 Oscars, and took home 4 trophies. Peter Finch was the first actor to win the ‘Best Actor’ award posthumously at the Academy Awards.

Network is a brilliant insight into media lifestyle, and my favourite Lumet film till date. Network was the second last Sidney Lumet film I watched until I saw 12 Angry Men, end of last month.

In 2007, while studying in Sydney, Australia, I watched Equus (1977), at my University (UNSW) library. Another superb character analysis here, with Richard Burton playing a psychiatrist trying to make sense of teenage boy’s unhealthy attraction towards horses. The boy, played by Peter Firth, finds sexual satisfaction through grooming horses and riding them in the nude. Yet one day in rage he blinds six horses in a stable. In early 2007, the play, by Peter Shaffer, which this movie is based on, was in the talks, as Daniel Radcliffe was performing the role of the teenage boy obsessed with horses, for a stage version, on the other side of the ocean. Soon I knew I had to check this film out, and it was truly worth it.

Richard Burton does a superb job as the psychiatrist, who ends up envying the young man, for the youngster finds more pleasure through horses, than the shrink has ever done in his life. Equus was nominated for 3 Oscars.
Sidney Lumet's Murder on the Orient ExpressLumet’s take on Agatha Christie
One of the first Lumet movies I watched was, Murder on the Orient Express (1974), just over a decade ago, whilst living in Oslo, Norway. Based on an Agatha Christie novel, this was a brilliant adaptation with a great star cast of legendary actors including Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and Albert Finney to name a few. The whole movie set in a train, Pre-World War-II, where one of the passengers included, the famed fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney). A business tycoon (Richard Widmark), has been killed, stabbed 12 times, and everyone has a motive. The suspects include a great glamorous star cast, with the who’s who of cinema. Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud, Michael York, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins and Jacqueline Bisset. Ingrid Bergman won the ‘Best Supporting Actress’ Oscar, the movie altogether was nominated for six awards.

Around the same time I also watched Lumet’s The Appointment (1969). Just don’t recall whether I watched in Norway or in England, UK. The Appointment, starring Omar Sharif and French actress Anouk Aimée, was a moderately good movie, set in Rome, about a husband who suspects his innocent wife of being a high-class prostitute, with tragic consequences.
The Appointment was nominated for the ‘Palme d’Or’ at the Cannes Film Festival in 1969.

Al Pacino Sidney Lumet films

Lumet works with Al Pacino
Around the same time, 10 years ago, in 2004, I watched Serpico (1973) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975), on the small screen, while living in Portsmouth, England, UK. Both starring Al Pacino, and both based on a true story. Serpico is a brilliant film, where Pacino plays a real life heroic cop, NYPD officer Frank Serpico, who went undercover to expose corruption in the police force. Dog Day Afternoon is a fictionalised story about an actual Brooklyn Bank robbery that took place in 1972, during the hot ‘sultry dog days of summer’. Both films were nominated in various categories at the Academy Awards, and Serpico took home no Oscars, including the ‘Best Actor’ trophy for Al Pacino, while Dog Day Afternoon bagged one but both Pacino and Lumet lost out on their consecutive awards yet again.

Christopher Reeve in DEATHTRAP (1982)

Christopher Reeve in DEATHTRAP (1982)

Lumet works with his daughter, Jenny
Sidney Lumet cast his writer daughter in three movies, including Deathtrap (1982), Running on Empty (1988) and Q & A (1990). Am yet to watch any of these movies.

Lumet’s last work
I watched Lumet’s last film, Before the Devil knows You’re Dead (2007), early on in 2008, on the big screen, in Sydney, Australia. By now Philip Seymour Hoffman, even more popular, post his Oscar win for Capote (2005), played the lead in this tragic cinematic piece of excellence.

Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei in a scene from BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD (2007)

Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei in a scene from BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2007)

Most probably the most out and out commercial venture made by Sidney Lumet. And not necessarily as great as many of his classics, but still an excellently well made movie. Before the Devil knows You’re Dead, is about two brothers who decide to rob their own parents jewellery store, yet hoping to make it a victimless crime. But there is no such thing as a perfect crime, thus things go haywire and their mother, who gets shot, falls into a coma. The movie has a great cast, besides Seymour Hoffman, it also stars Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, and Rosemary Harris. Unfortunately, a talented actress like Marisa Tomei, is wasted in this movie. She’s used as nothing but a sex object, sharing a bed between two brothers. Married to one, and having affair with other.

Lumet classics am yet to watch
Besides Deathtrap (1982), Running on Empty (1988) and Q & A (1990),  there are so many of his films am yet to watch including, Stage Struck (1958), That Kind of Woman (1959), The Fugitive Kid (1959), View from the Bridge (1961), Long Day’s journey into Night (1962), The Hill (1965), The Anderson Tapes (1971), The Verdict (1982), Garbo Talks (1984), The Morning After (1986), A Stranger Among Us (1992), Guilty as Sin (1993), Night Falls on Manhattan (1997), Strip Search (2004), Find Me Guilty (2006) and much much more.

Night falls on Manhattan

Though Lumet was nominated many a times for various films, he never won an Oscar. But he did receive an Honorary Academy Award for ‘Lifetime Achievement’ in 2005.
He was also nominated twice at the Cannes Film Festival.
Altogether 14 of his films were nominated at the Oscars in various categories, and some of his films, made in the 70’s, took home more than one Oscar.

Sidney Lumet died, aged 86, of Lymphoma, on 9th April 2011. As soon as I heard of this, I paid tribute to the great director by making a ‘Set of 7’ list on IMDB, along with seven mini critiques (see my list Sidney Lumet: Set of Seven on IMDB).

Day before yesterday was Sidney Lumet’s 90th Birth Anniversary.

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

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