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April 09, 2011


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Sad to hear of his passing. He created an amazing body of work which will forever stand the test of time. God bless Sidney Lumet. RIP.


Once you do count FAMILY BUSINESS, and then remember that Connery was had a supporting role in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, you realize that Lumet and Connery worked together six times. For some reason, I was really surprised by that. I'd just never counted them up. Did Lumet work with any other actor that often?

Anyway, great piece, Glenn. Lumet was a favorite of mine, for all sorts of reasons, and he will be sorely missed. I'll be writing up something tonight, probably.



Nice tribute, Glenn. Lumet is one of my favorites, not only for the number of great pictures he made (my own personal favorite being PRINCE OF THE CITY), but also for the number of chances he took.

Kevyn Knox

Great piece (and fun interview - I love his reaction when you remind him just how long he has been in the business).

I am going to sit down and watch 12 Angry Men now - a copy of which was bought just this evening form the (ughh) bargain bin and B&N in some sort of kismetic coincidence.

Jason Melanson

"He lived, functioned, and made films in the world, the world we live in, not in the exalted far-off fantasy land that any number of puling mediocrities who make a show of turning up their noses at "paycheck gigs" insist their favorite artists inhabit."

Amen to that! I just watched THE HILL for the first time last week, what a fantastic film that is. I had also just purchased the Criterion DVD of THE FUGITIVE KIND a few weeks ago, I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, now seems like an appropriate time.

I am very saddened by his passing, for me Lumet was the director who first made me see film as a serious art form. Seeing SERPICO and DOG DAY AFTERNOON in quick succession when I was a teenager were seminal moments in my cinema viewing life. He will be missed. RIP.


Lipranzer - No, you're right, it's five. I was distracted by my inability to count. Still, though: if any one actor gets associated with Lumet in a Scorsese/De Niro way, it would probably be Al Pacino, even though they only made two films together. Connery/Lumet is a pairing that rarely gets talked about (except here, of course).


As everyone says, a fine tribute, Glenn—you can tell it came from the gut. This sounds a lot like the Lumet I heard talk at a screening of The Offence in Brooklyn a few years ago. He seemed so alive and vital, young even, it doesn't seem possible he could be dead. That evening he defended Find Me Guilty (and Vin Deisel's performance in it) as his one of his better recent films. I don't think he was wrong. He seemed to have, as Glenn suggests, a keen awareness of what was best in his own work.

Kevyn Knox

Lumet was a good enough director to get me to thoroughly enjoy a performance by Vin Deisel. Find Me Guilty is a very underrated work in my (not so) humble opinion.

Glenn Kenny

On a side note, the career of Mr. Diesel is a gift of amusement that keeps on giving for those of us who knew of him when he was an aspiring rapper doing demos produced by Arthur Russell (yes, THAT Arthur Russell). Those who have HEARD said demos are yet more amused.

Kent Jones

I did a Q&A with him at the 2008 NYFF for BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, and like bstrong I was amazed by his vitality and sharpness. It's sad to think of a world without him.

Let it be noted that he wrote one of THE very best books about filmmaking.

warren oates

I can't think of New York movies without Lumet. So many great ones, but the best one that people aren't so quick to mention is PRINCE OF THE CITY.

Kent Jones

Well, I guess PRINCE OF THE CITY isn't the one you hear on the radio obits or on Entertainment Weekly, but it's the first film that most of the people I know mention when they think of Lumet. And it seems even better now than it did when it came out.

Stephen Bowie

Not just Vin Diesel in FIND ME GUILTY, but also a credible performance from Tab Hunter in THAT KIND OF WOMAN. Fifty years of discovering sides of performers that no other director could. (And not to go all Lex G here, but his final gift to cinema may have been reinventing Marisa Tomei as a naked cougar.) Lumet had the New York streets rep, and was always careful to point out his subtle command of camera & composition & lighting, but I most cherish his work with actors (the famous two weeks of rehearsal before every shoot). I see him as a worthy successor to Kazan.

Brian Dauth

Lumet's EQUUS is also remarkable - through the use of mise en scene and performance, Lumet is able to turn the meaning/intent of Shaffer's play on its head without changing a word of dialogue. Shaffer hated the film and it is not hard to see why. Also, Lumet used Burton's ambiguous relationship to film acting to inform/augment his portrayal of the doctor: Dysart walks through his life like Burton walks through a screen role. The final image of madness is one of my favorites in film.


'Prince of the City' An epic piece of filmmaking. Treat Williams, along with Jerry Orbach, give masterful performances. The supporting cast, some of the best character actors around, are so friggin' solid, can't say enough about them. Love it.

Great movie.

"I will NOT give up my partners"

Nicholas Forster

Lumet was actually my first favorite director. I remember seeing Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon as a freshman in Highschool and just losing my mind. My friends and I used to argue, half jokingly, whether it was pronounced LEW-MET or LEW-MAY (as though he were French!). His vast work really propelled me into the world of cinephilia and I couldn't be more grateful to Mr. Lumet for that. I am about to graduate college now and Serpico, Dog Day, Prince of the City and others stand up there on my shelf with the best of the best. Did anyone get New York better than Lumet? I've only really been a transient in New York (lived there for close to two years), but I've always thought Lumet captured the way the city looks to someone who enjoys the city, and perhaps has secret desires to be a flaneur, but isn't necessarily an insider. He avoided the construction of "New York-ness" that Woody Allen's films sometimes had and Scorsese could veer into.

I had the honor to see Mr. Lumet in New York with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei as they promoted Before the Devil... It was an experience I will never forget.


James Keepnews

Deisel/Russell? Really? The mind reels, I imagine the reels reel. Where can a aesthete score some Deisel/Russell in this neighborhood?

Have to say, I enjoyed FIND ME GUILTY enormously, and thought Deisel was superb throughout, his wig notwithstanding. I keep hoping he'll deliver on the promise of things like this, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, PITCH BLACK (no joke). That did not occur in BABYLON A.D.

But yes, indeedy, an excellent interview -- it's astonishing how much is packed away in Lumet's remarkable career, and, man, did you ever isolate a good'un with JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT, which has intimations of the classic throughout, and not just the Bloomie's (Saks?) beatdown . Alan King is on fire throughout and should have gotten the kind of stardom Dangerfield got a year later, resuscitated by CADDYSHACK -- not to mention excellent turns by Keenan Wynn and, most especially, Myrna Loy, talking tough like Nora right to the end of her career.

And what of DEATHTRAP? Speaking of excellent turns, was Christopher Reeve ever better? I mean, yeah, stagy -- and 12 ANGRY MEN and LONG DAY'S JOURNEY weren't? That said, +1 on Brian's citation of EQUUS, coaxing a miraculous performance from Burton and such fine ones from everyone else, capturing the work's alienation and monomania in ways that are seen and felt, not told. And one could not, whatever the origins in Shaffer's play, call it even remotely stagy.


Christopher Reeve owns DEATHTRAP.

jim emerson

Though I'd like to have seen De Palma's "Prince of the City," Lumet made something mighty impressive of it. (And we got "Blow Out" instead, so I'm not complaining.) And the use of Elton John's "Amoreena" to set up "Dog Day Afternoon" is directorial genius. It didn't occur to me until I read what you said about Lumet making films "in the world" that John Huston had a very similar attitude about making movies.

Kent Jones

DEATHTRAP? Fun movie, I guess, but next thing you know everyone will be singing the praises of A STRANGER AMONG US and THE WIZ.

Last November, I had jury duty on Thomas Street (some real dialogue as I was being questioned by a lawyer for the jury pool: "So, Mr. Jones, I heard that you work with Spike Lee." "No, Martin Scorsese." "Oh, excuse me. But let's get back to Spike Lee. Spike Lee said to do the right thing. Do you think you'd be able to do the right thing if selected for this case, Mr. Jones?") The presiding judge, now retired from active duty, was Mr. Q&A/CARLITO'S WAY (to extend Jim's De Palma comparison) himself, Edwin Torres.

Just to free associate, I remember hearing that Abel Ferrara was attached to CARLITO'S WAY at one point. Until he went up to a Universal executive at a party, slapped him on the back and said, "We're gonna make the best FUCKING movie of the motherfucking YEAR!" Exit Ferrara, enter De Palma.

By the way, here's a tip. If you ever find yourself writing about SHOAH, don't try finishing it up on an iPad during breaks in jury duty.

Pete Segall

I've always loved The Verdict. An incredibly taut movie. Newman is searing and Mamet's script is a reminder that his writing was once buoyant and not pure bombast. I can also remember burning through Making Movies over the course of one snowy weekend. The book's tone was endlessly affectionate, both toward its readers and its subject. He'll be missed.

Glenn Kenny

@ Kent: The fella at Big Hollywood HAS gone on about how fab "A Stranger Among Us" is, largely I believe because its screenwriter, Robert Avrech, is one of the fold over there. Lumet, in our talk (I don't believe this made the published interview), posited it as a worthwhile idea that wasn't properly executed on a lot of levels. It was interesting to hear him talk about movies where he would come back to a theme that he was really personally invested in. His "Daniel" was critically drubbed, and he said of that, "I was so upset and angry about the reception 'Daniel' got—critically, because I really didn’t expect it ever to be a commercial success—that I did 'Running on Empty,' because it’s the exact same movie. It’s about who pays for the passions of the parents—the kids." For whatever impression the latter film made, he continued, "When that didn’t work, I actually did a comedy about the theme, or tried to do a comedy about it ['Family Business'], which wasn’t funny."

Damn, he was awesome.

single muslim

A good director embraces everything and tries to make it work. Rip Mr.Lumet

James Keepnews

Didn't mean to offend your hierarchical sensibilities, Kent, but, yeah, DEATHTRAP. It is a fun movie of an undeniably dopey gimmick play, but extraordinarily well-paced, shot, acted, constructed overall -- I'll take it over POWER, THE MORNING AFTER, GUILTY AS SIN, NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN (oh, you MUST hear my Andy Garcia impersonation from this film sometime...), pick 'em. And in fact, I find THE WIZ to be a completely transfixing trainwreck -- it shares a verity or two with DEATHTRAP in the construction department (and Landis' "Thriller" video looks like its sequel), but all those egos have to be directed in a manner that seems closer to air traffic control than Stanislavski.

I reckon we'd both agree PRINCE is better. Five words: Lindsay Crouse and Richard Foronjy.


Edwin Torres is still on the bench? Holy smokes. That's cool.

And I just watched DEATHTRAP for the first time yesterday, and slight though it may be, it's really excellent. No, Reeve was never better, and he's truly, alarmingly sinister at times. It's an ingenious, tricky, fun movie that deserves its due. Lumet used the old effect of lightning providing strobe lighting to the action supremely well at the end.



I will never forget seeing DEATHTRAP in a theater in Southern Indiana during its first run. When the big twist comes and Caine and Reeve kiss, the teenager in front of me LITERALLY fell out of his seat. All amid a chorus of "EWWWWWWWWWs" of course. I kept waiting for someone to shout, "Say it ain't so, Superman!"


I was STUNNED at that scene the first time I watched the film on HBO. And then I thought it was even better. And pretty brave of Caine and Reeve for the time. I wonder if it hurt the box-office...


I knew about that twist going in, so I was pleased it wasn't the big ending reveal, and rather a turning point that came about halfway through.

Brian Dauth

While people often concentrate on the first half of Lumet's work in the 1970's, I especially like the period that starts with EQUUS (1977) and ends with DANIEL (1983). The movies are vaired in terms of both content and success (as with any period in Lumet's career), but contain many of his best films.

James: you are so right about THE WIZ - it doesn't work, but in a fascinating way.


There doesn't seem to be much emphasis on MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. And I know my preference for the former since childhood isn't really aesthetically defenisible, especially given what else came out in 1974. But Albert Finney really does give a remarkable performance, and Widmark, Bacall, Gielguld, Roberts, Hiller and Connery are very good as well. As for the latter I saw CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF yesterday on TCM. It was much more successful getting oscar nominations, notwithstanding that it is a much poorer play, and neither the direction nor the performances are as good as LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. But it is in color and it does have Elizabeth Taylor giving an erotic charge to the proceedings.

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