Tuesday, April 12, 2011


JER: It is with great sadness that this week’s topic was selected to pay tribute to the loss of one of Hollywood’s most respected and honored film directors: Sydney Lumet, who died on Saturday April 9, 2011 of lymphoma at his home in Manhattan at the age of 86.

Sydney Lumet started off his career not as a director, but as a Broadway actor for a number of years in the 1930’s. His interest in directing on stage later transitioned his work onto several television programs throughout the 1950’s. He wouldn’t land his first feature film until 1957 with 12 ANGRY MEN starring Henry Fonda, which was both a critical and finical hit, earning Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.

Lumet would continue directing for television even after the success of high-profile debut. A few other film projects stemmed throughout the 1960’s including FAIL SAFE (1964) again working with Henry Fonda. It wouldn’t be until the 1970’s that Lumet’s career in film would truly begin to blossom, most notably having worked with Sean Connery in THE ANDERSON TAPES (1971) and shortly thereafter, working with a young Al Pacino in SERPICO (1973).

Based on a true story, Frank Serpico was a good cop in the early 1970’s working in a corrupt New York precinct. Having already been the topic of controversy amongst his fellow colleagues for not ‘accepting’ money from within the department, Serpico would fall into a deeper hole when he actually blew the whistle on fellow officers for their wrong-doings. The film became another hit for Lumet and earned a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for Al Pacino.
The real Frank Serpico reviews SERPICO the  film! Incredible!

In 1974, Lumet would direct an all-star cast including Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman (winning a Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Greta), John Gielgud and Sean Connery in Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. The film would tally 6 nominations including Best Adapted Screenplay.

The opportunity to work with Al Pacino in another true story telling became available 1975’s DOG DAY AFTERNOON. Pacino plays Sonny, a gay bank robber, who holds up a First Savings bank on a hot summer day in New York to gather enough money for his lover’s sex change operation. Having found out that most of the bank’s money had been picked up from the day’s transactions, the delay and hostage situation causes panic amongst the small band of robbers and a media circus outside. Nominated for 6 awards, Lumet would gain another Best Director nomination as well as Best Picture.

1976 would bring the powerhouse cast of Faye Dunaway, William Holden and Peter Finch together for the highly critically acclaimed film, NETWORK. The story of how a TV Network turns its back on its one-time highly rated News Anchorman and how he bucks the system against his fellow colleges and network studio. The film would win 4 Academy Awards, including awards for Dunaway’s and Finch’s acting as well as for Paddy Chayefsky’s Screenplay. The film pulled a whopping 10 nominations including another nomination for Lumet’s Direction and Best Picture.
The emotionally- charged trailer for the powerful NETWORK!

Rounding out the decade, Lumet would bring us the highly controversial EQUUS (1977) starring Richard Burton and a very unlikely directorial choice (in comparison to his previous films) with 1978’s THE WIZ.

Adapted from its very popular Broadway run, THE WIZ is an African-American refashioning of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ story casting Diana Ross as Dorothy, Pop sensation Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell as The Tinman and Ted Ross, reprising his Tony Award winning role as The Lion.

With a notable career already established, the 1980’s would offer more opportunities for Sydney Lumet, but with less successful films to place on his resume. With his first attempt at comedy, Lumet directed JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT (1980) starring Ali McGraw and Alan King. Knowing his successes remained in the tough drama category, Making a return to the familiar topic of drama, his next film would bring the critically acclaimed PRINCE OF THE CITY (1981) with Treat Williams playing a New York narcotics detective, who becomes investigated by Internal Affairs after some questionable practices…but who can he really trust? The film gave Lumet a co-writing Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The trailer to the true story of PRINCE OF THE CITY

1982 brought two films to the screen, beginning with DEATHTRAP starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon. This comedy/ mystery movie told the story of an aging playwriting Instructor who is visited by a former student with a well-crafted copy of a new playwright he is finishing. The script is so good, it maybe worth ‘killing’ over it! The second film released was the powerfully charged drama THE VERDICT with Paul Newman as a drinking, out-of his-luck lawyer when he given a lawsuit that might revive his career. The film would receive 5 Academy Award nominations including another Best Director Nom for Lumet.

The mid and later 1980’s would bring forth a string of films including DANIEL (1983) starring Timothy Hutton,  the mystery/ drama THE MORNING AFTER (1986) starring Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges and RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988) starring River Phoenix and Judd Hirsh.

The 1990’s would keep Lumet busy with films like Q&A (1990) starring Nick Nolte and GUILTY OF SIN (1993) starring Don Johnson. Lumet was neither receiving the critical or box office recognition he had been bestowed with earlier in his career. With frustration. Lumet returned back to his television roots throughout the 2000’s and began directing television films again…but not without pulling one more ‘rabbit out of his hat!’

In 2005, Sydney Lumet was given an Honorary Academy Award for his body of work. The award was presented to him by Al Pacino.
Al Pacino honors presents Sidney Lumet with Honorary Oscar!

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2007) would be the last film Lumet would direct, but before grabbing the attention of audiences and critics alike! A frank and provoking crime/ drama starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke starring as brothers who plan a jewelry robbery that goes wrong, triggering a series of events that shatters both lives.

With a grand total of 72 Director credits, Sydney Lumet left his name branded on the silver screen for his outlook on Drama, Crime, Mystery and Suspense during an era when such films were welcomed and embraced by the best of the best…

JOHNNY CHAZZ: How bizarre and troublesome it is that every couple of weeks or so it seems as if a major role-player in cinema has passed on from this life to the next. A shock indeed this week as I read the news of Lumet’s death in the early hours of Saturday’s online journal. Here was a man - a raw talent who was just recently presented an Oscar in film achievement by Al Pacino at the awards in 2005. This week, Jer, has appropriately chosen a topic that not only pays homage to Sydney Lumet’s films, but to a man whose career truly embodied and embraced a genre of suspense and drama throughout his career and his life.

 It is so strange how things work. Didn’t we just finish discussing the topic of screenplays last week while including films such as “Twelve Angry Men” and “Network?” Now this happens. To say the least, the films of Lumet during the majority of his career were not only poignant and dramatic, but quite understated as well. “Twelve Angry Men” as an example, was not just a gritty drama, but also a dialogue-heavy work that dealt with subject matter of the ultimate nature. This would eventually become a style that Lumet’s films would model after.

You mentioned here, Jer that the 1960’s were probably a forgetful decade for the films of Lumet, and I must concur. What a shame it was considering the impact that European cinema was having on American films and directors and it would have been intriguing to see what Lumet may have pieced together during this experimental time when dialogue was king.

The Lumet films of the seventies that you discussed all constitute what we could call the definitive and quintessential Sydney Lumet style. Both “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network” were true cinematic gems while dealing once again with real-life, controversial and dramatic issues. “Serpico” is another that must be marked as an all-time great amongst Hollywood pictures. As for “The Wiz” however, I must claim that this film was not only a box-office disappointment, but deservingly so. Of all the Lumet films during this era, “The Wiz” was passionless, dull and was nothing else other than poor theater. However, Lumet’s image was quickly resurrected with the wonderful early 1980’s films of “The Verdict” and “Deathtrap” which will always remain high on my list.
The 1982 trialer for Lumet's THE VERDICT with Paul Newman

Now Jer, you drew attention to the following three films in the 1980’s: DANIEL (1983), THE MORNING AFTER (1986), and RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988). It would more than please me to say that these films are also high on my list, but how unrealistic would that be? These 1980's films of Lumet along with his films for the next 15 years were, and to this day remain forgetful. The explanation is quite simple however. The idea of the "well-written screenplay" as witnessed in his films of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s had since disappeared, and without the screenplay (last week’s ever-important topic) you virtually have nothing to offer an audience that hungers for something, well – “cinematic”, "dramatic", and well -“suspenseful” in nature.
Sidney Lumet would deliver one more great film before leaving our world however, and I must agree with your selection here, Jer. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007) offers an outstanding cast, a clever screenplay and a combination of wit, suspense and drama creating a film that unravels in dramatic fashion. Thumbs up on this sleeper, which actually becomes sharper every time you re-visit it.

One particular aspect of Lumet films that I always enjoyed was his appreciation for those kinds of drama-based stories that were set in the New York backdrop. You know the look, Jer - it was as if Lumet’s films always had that gritty, period-piece, stylistic yet crooked tangibility about them that only a city like New York could offer. Robert Wise ("West Side Story", "Citizen Kane", "Odds Against Tomorrow", "Day the Earth Stood Still") would have been proud. Shooting these scenes on the streets of New York always put the viewer in the heart of the story and in the middle of the action.

Al Pacino and Sidney Lumet & The Oscars 2005
So, once again it is a very sad day in Hollywood as we have lost yet another big name. This time, it is director Sydney Lumet. And there’s no shame if you feel like standing up and shouting “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Yes, Mr. Lumet shall be missed.

JER: Yes, JC, I know how you feel...in a world filled with Michael Bay-effect films, it is so hard to find directors with much substance anymore. Like Elizabeth Taylor, Hollywood is losing its battle of greats being lost...but with no one to fill the void with! Tune in for JC's turn as we say...SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY! Keep the comments and topic suggestions coming!

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  1. This was defintiely a big loss for people who love the movies. Sad to see him pass on. (Robert - Mission Viejo, CA)

  2. Hi Robert, thank you for your comments...yes, we both agree on your statement...a loss indeed

  3. Rest in peace Mr. Lumet - we were all big fans of your movies. Alan @ Culver City, CA.