Sydney Lumet reported dead
There are few directors who are better at dialogue than Sydney Lumet.
Intense, rich, complicated dialogue…especially talking about ideas and matters of life and death.
The first movie he directed, 12 Angry Men, still stands as a classic for its great jury room deliberations. Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb…and Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Picture…on his first movie job.
An amazing achievement for someone coming from television, where you can’t always get respect on the big screen and from such powerful actors.
He was nominated for a Best Director Oscar three more times: Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict.
He didn’t do a lot of genre work. I would argue that Fail-Safe, a truly brilliant movie, falls into that category. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a good place to get to know Sydney Lumet. I’ll warn you, it’s harsh…but the directing is particularly strong. Walter Matthau, Fritz Weaver (in his first movie), Henry Fonda (who Lumet had previously directed in 12 Angry Men)…and a surprising Larry Hagman. Hagman and Matthau may make you think this is a comedy: it’s not. This is one of those movies where, if it was bad, no one would question its genre classification…but people who don’t think that geek movies can actually have real acting would resist that in this case.
An undeniably geeky movie is Lumet’s version of The Wiz, an adaptation of the Broadway update of the Wizard of Oz. The movie did not do well at the box office, although it has its fans. Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor…but even with a stellar cast like that, doing a musical may not have played to Lumet’s strengths.
If you want to go back and review Lumet’s work (The Pawnbroker, Equus, Serpico, Deathtrap), I’d recommend one movie a day. His movies will wear you out…I find it hard to imagine watching four or five in a row.
Good-bye, Sydney…in a Hollywood that has become largely about special effects, your “special affects” will keep us thinking and talking about movies for years.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.