Sidney Lumet, the legendary Hollywood director of such classic films at 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network has died today at his home in Manhattan. His step-daughter reports to The New York Times that the cause of death was lymphoma. He was 86.
Directing as recently as 2007 with the critically acclaimed film Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, Lumet has over 50 feature films to his credit. He was nominated for five Oscars in his career, although he joins a long list of legendary directors who have never won Hollywood’s top prize. Lumet’s films examined morality in unique and inventive ways and the U.S. criminal justice system was a common subject for his works.
While I have not been exposed to all of Lumet’s works, two of his films are high-ranked in my All-Time Top 200 with Network at #97 and 12 Angry Men at #26. The former is a satirical and prophetic look at the television industry and the corruption within. Decades before Glenn Beck emitted weekly emotional breakdowns on Fox News, Lumet presented us with a vision of an American news anchor whose career is revived when corrupt studio representatives exploit his insanity to make money on a television show. The film is darkly funny thanks in large part to a script by the great Paddy Chayefsky that Lumet brings to vibrant life. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won four including a Best Actor win for Peter Finch who died months before the ceremony.
Lumet’s first success, however, is still my favorite. After directing television shows for years Sidney Lumet was offered the opportunity to adapt Reginald Rose’s play 12 Angry Men for the big screen. The film he created is one of the most gripping, one-room dramas ever made. Every character within the script exists on a different plane of morality and the motivations for their respective opinions on the case are slowly revealed throughout the story. Lumet uses the backdrop of a jury room at a trial to raise poignant questions about what drives human decision-making. He invokes brilliant performances from Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb andLumet earned his first Academy Award nomination. The film still feels as poignant today as it ever has.
Sidney Lumet was a master of the craft who will be missed. What is your favorite Lumet film?