A Film Rumination: Sidney Lumet (June 25, 1924-April 9, 2011) and mini-reviews of the films of his I’ve seen

The great American director Sidney Lumet (1924-2011) passed away today and in honor of his long and productive  career (albeit with brief lulls of average work) here are a few mini-reviews of the films of his I’ve seen in order of preference. I’ve not seen many of his acknowledged masterpieces including Serpico, The Hill, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Pawnbroker, etc.

1. Network (1976)

9.5/10 (Masterpiece)

Network (1976) is by far my favorite Sidney Lumet film and one of my favorite films of all time.  The performances are all top-notch and the script remains one, in my opinion, of the best ever written (yes, it’s so refined and witty that the possibility of such words actually coming out of someone’s mouth is improbable).  The plot follows a TV network’s exploitation of a TV anchor (who may or may not be completely deranged).  Faye Dunaway rightly won an Oscar for her role as a driven “career woman.”  The other Oscar winning actors of amazing supporting cast include Peter Finch and Beatrice Straight.  One of the great American films from the 70s (and all time)…

2. Fail-Safe (1964)

9/10 (Masterpiece)

Stanley Kubrick prevented this film from releasing at the same time as his similarly plotted (yet satirical) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).  Lumet’s Fail-Safe has virtually the same plot but is a serious drama replete with a war room, tension, Russian premier, tension, more tension, and then, the bomb.  Henry Fonda is at the top of his game and the black and white cinematography is often breathtaking (especially the last sequence when the bomb explodes).  A tightly plotted and well-acted (for the most part) drama which has been overshadowed by Dr. Strangelove (which is rightly famous).  If you haven’t seen this, you must!  It encapsulates in a succinct, terse, and vivid manner the fear (and ramifications) of nuclear war…

3. 12 Angry Men (1957)

9/10 (Masterpiece)

No list of Lumet’s best could possibly leave out 12 Angry Men (1957) — one of the greatest American films EVER made.  I saw this many many years ago (well, I’m young so that’s relative) at a showing at the University of Texas in Austin and it as remained with me ever since.  This was Lumet’s VERY first film!  The plot is simple — a boy has been falsely accused of murder and eleven of the twelve jurors are absolutely convinced that he’s guilty.  They all want to go home and it’s up to Henry Fonda’s character (who has suspicions that something is amiss) to slowly overcome their prejudices and expose the truth.

4. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

7/10 (Good)

Al Pacino puts in one of his best performance as Sonny in Lumet’s gritty film. Sonny along with some accomplices decides to rob a bank.  The situation immediately goes astray and spirals out of control.  It is clear that Sonny has never adjusted to civilian life after his stint in a Vietnam — as a result the audience feels for him despite his actions.  Although not one of my favorite of Lumet’s films I appreciate the work and its merits despite the fact that it failed to resonate with me (I tend to avoid bank robbery and heist movies in general).

5. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

6.5/10 (Average)

I watched this film a while back and I’ve since forgotten most of the details of the characters, plot, and general feel of the work.  I do remember how drastically Albert Finney’s depiction of Poirot differs from David Suchet’s in the masterful British TV-drama series Agatha Christie’s Poirot (1989-2002), (2003-present).  Regardless, it’s a delightful adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous stories and the constricted environment of the train cars heighten the tensions.  I should watch it again sometime….

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17 thoughts on “A Film Rumination: Sidney Lumet (June 25, 1924-April 9, 2011) and mini-reviews of the films of his I’ve seen”

  1. This is the first I’m hearing about Lumet. Though I wouldn’t really call him one of my favorites, he was definitely one of the greats in the industry. Fail-Safe and 12 Angry Men are awesome.

  2. I just found out about his passing yesterday. Lumet was one of my favorites (NETWORK is, indeed a masterpiece…one of many he directed). I even enjoyed his most recent film, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD.

    While it’s hard to pinpoint a personal favorite from his filmography, I’d have to say it’s NETWORK (followed closely by DOG DAY AFTERNOON)

    Others worth checking out are PRINCE OF THE CITY, THE PAWNBROKER, DEATHTRAP and THE VERDICT

  3. Lumet is indeed a great director, with many great films under his belt. If forced to pick a favorite, I would be forced to agree with Mr. Boaz in selecting Network. That film hits levels of transcendence that makes it comparable to some of the greats. It seems to predict the wave of reality television shows that we are now buried under, as well as the current state of economic globalization. Reading his book, Making Movies, pushed my appreciation for him as a director even higher.

  4. Network features a couple of my very favorite monologues in any film. And I’m glad you gave props to Fonda’s performance in Fail Safe; he was fantastic.

    Was wondering about 12 Angry Men while surfing Netflix the other night; never seen it.

  5. He has made some great movies. It’s hard to decide which one I like best – Network or 12 Angry Men. I also enjoyed Running on Empty. Haven’t seen Fail-Safe yet. And then there are some which failed to create any impression on me – The Offence, The Verdict, Dog Day Afternoon, Murder on the Orient Express, A Stranger Among Us, Prince of the City.

    P.S.: Thanks for stopping by CineLex! :)

  6. I hadn’t realised that Lumet directed all of these! I’m a big fan of Network and Dog Day Afternoon, and didn’t know he was behind both of them. Shame on me. Absolutely going to look at 12 Angry Men one of these days, it’s on the to-watch list.

  7. Joachim, I have seen every movie of his mentioned in this piece and have to say I find him very overrated. He is only as good as his screenplays, and fortunately he had a great eye for them. My favorite is LONG DAY`S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, which I think shows his talent off well because he knows where to put the camera to give best support for the performance and the line readings. He is clearly a director rooted in live T.V. who never rocked the boat with difficult material, and by that I mean 12 ANGRY MEN–right out of the Stanley Kramer School of Obvious Right and Wrong. NETWORK would be #2, SERPICO #3. In both cases it would take a lot of work to screw up that material–just knowing what NOT to do was his great talent. I am starting to think the rather flawed [and cowardly in its covering of the homosexual theme] but well-acted EQUUS might be #4 for me, with DOG DAY AFTERNOON at #5. I love what I call `invisible` directing–non-show-offy directing–but so many of his movies have a generic point of view.

    1. I adore Network — and yes, I like 12 Angry Men…. I haven’t seen either Serpico of Long Day’s Journey into Night… Although the latter is on my list to watch… I haven’t been in a film mood as of late — it comes in spurts I guess.

  8. Iknow what you mean. I will burn through many films for a week or two, then return to a normal viewing pace, and then not watch something for weeks. Good to let the ideas and images settle, and not gorge–you might miss the qualities of some of the films. I forgot to mention another quality of EQUUS–Jenny `Logan`s Run/Walkabout` Agutter in all her nekkidity.

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