Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sidney Lumet, 1924-2011

Sidney Lumet has died at the age of 86. He was one of the greatest directors of the past fifty years, and I would argue one of the best of all time.

I saw the last two movies he made, Find Me Guilty starring Vin Diesel and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Albert Finney. He was over 80 when he made these. Men half his age would be hard pressed to do as well.

I've read a few of the obituaries, and the idea people are trying to push is that he was one of the great New York City film directors. While some of his best work is based there (Serpico, The Pawnbroker, Prince of the City, Night Falls On Manhattan), what really impresses me about his career is his ability to hit to all fields. Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese are more highly thought of in some circles, but there are movies on Lumet's list they couldn't possibly make.

How about Network? Fail-Safe? Could Scorsese or Allen make The Group or Long Day's Journey Into Night?

They could, but they would suck at it.

His big break after working on TV was the film version of Twelve Angry Men in 1957. I've heard some directors whine about not having enough locations, of a movie looking like a filmed play.

Ever since I was a kid, I thought about Twelve Angry Men when I heard this lament. If you aren't as good as Sidney Lumet, either shut up or get off the field.

I loved this movie when I was young. This is the movie that turned me into a trivia nerd. I knew I had to remember the whole cast. Left to right: Jack Warden, Edward Binns (hidden), E.G. Marshall, John Fielder (hidden), Henry Fonda, Ed Begley, Robert Webber, Jack Klugman, George Voscovec, Martin Balsam, Joseph Sweeney. That's eleven guys. They are all looking at the last holdout, played by Lee J. Cobb.

Hope that wasn't a spoiler, but the movie is 54 years old, so I'm going to say it's your fault if you didn't know that by now. I've had those names in my head for over four decades now, and I didn't have to check out to see if I was right.

Lumet wasn't perfect. He made The Wiz, to give just one example. He did a remake of John Cassavetes' Gloria starring Sharon Stone to name another.

He directed 72 projects. They can't all be masterpieces.

But he also directed possibly my favorite all-star cast of all time, Murder On The Orient Express, starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot. I'm going to put in the the DVD player tonight and enjoy it one more time, just because it's time to remind myself how good Sidney Lumet really was.

Best wishes to the family and friends of Sidney Lumet, from a devoted fan.

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