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Sidney Lumet

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Subject: BAFTA Award for Best Film, Serpico, List of film director and actor collaborations, Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men (1957 film)
Collection: 1924 Births, 2011 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Male Actors, 21St-Century American Male Actors, Academy Honorary Award Recipients, Actors Studio Members, American Film Directors, American Film Producers, American Jews, American Male Film Actors, American Male Screenwriters, American Military Personnel of World War II, American People of Polish-Jewish Descent, American Screenwriters, American Television Directors, American Television Producers, American Theatre Directors, Best Director Golden Globe Winners, Cancer Deaths in New York, Columbia University Alumni, Deaths from Lymphoma, English-Language Film Directors, Film Directors from New York City, Jewish American Male Actors, People from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Silver Gavel Award Winners, Writers from New York, Yiddish Theatre Performers
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Sidney Lumet

Sidney Lumet
Born Sidney Arthur Lumet
(1924-06-25)June 25, 1924
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died April 9, 2011(2011-04-09) (aged 86)
New York City, New York, United States
Cause of death Lymphoma
Residence New York City
Nationality American
Education Professional Children's School
Alma mater Columbia University
Occupation Director, producer, screenwriter, actor
Years active 1939–2007
Notable work Dog Day Afternoon
12 Angry Men
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
The Wiz
Murder on the Orient Express
The Verdict
Spouse(s) Rita Gam (1949–55; divorced)
Gloria Vanderbilt (1956–63; div.)
Gail Jones (1963–78; div.)
Mary Gimbel (1980–2011; his death)
Children Amy, Jenny
Parent(s) Baruch Lumet
Eugenia Wermus

Sidney Arthur Lumet ( ; June 25, 1924 – April 9, 2011) was an American director, producer and screenwriter with over 50 films to his credit. He was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Director for 12 Angry Men (1957), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976) and The Verdict (1982). He did not win an individual Academy Award, but he did receive an Academy Honorary Award and 14 of his films were nominated for various Oscars, such as Network, which was nominated for ten, winning four.

The Encyclopedia of Hollywood states that Lumet was one of the most prolific directors of the modern era, making more than one movie per year on average since his directorial debut in 1957.[1] He was noted by Turner Classic Movies for his "strong direction of actors," "vigorous storytelling" and the "social realism" in his best work.[2] Film critic Roger Ebert described him as having been "one of the finest craftsmen and warmest humanitarians among all film directors."[3] Lumet was also known as an "actor's director," having worked with the best of them during his career, probably more than "any other director."[4] Sean Connery, who acted in five of his films, considered him one of his favorite directors, and a director who had that "vision thing."[5]

A founding member of New York's Actors Studio,[6] Lumet began his directorial career in Off-Broadway productions, then became a highly efficient TV director. His first movie was typical of his best work: a well-acted, tightly written, deeply considered "problem picture," 12 Angry Men (1957). From that point on Lumet divided his energies among other idealistic problem pictures along with literate adaptations of plays and novels, big stylish pictures, New York-based black comedies, and realistic crime dramas, including Serpico and Prince of the City. As a result of directing 12 Angry Men, he was also responsible for leading the first wave of directors who made a successful transition from TV to movies.[7]

In 2005, Lumet received an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement for his "brilliant services to screenwriters, performers, and the art of the motion picture." Two years later, he concluded his career with the acclaimed drama Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007). A few months after Lumet's death in April 2011, a retrospective celebration of his work was held at New York's Lincoln Center with the appearance of numerous speakers and film stars.[8]


  • Early years 1
  • Personal life 2
  • Career in directing 3
    • Early career 3.1
    • Directing style and subjects 3.2
      • Realism and energetic style 3.2.1
      • Collaboration 3.2.2
      • Rehearsal and preparation 3.2.3
      • Character development 3.2.4
      • Psychodramas 3.2.5
      • Issues of social justice 3.2.6
      • New York City settings 3.2.7
      • Use of contemporary Jewish themes 3.2.8
      • Directing techniques 3.2.9
      • Vision of future films 3.2.10
  • Death 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Filmography 6
  • Academy Awards 7
  • Other awards 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early years

Lumet in the 1940 play, Journey to Jerusalem

Lumet was born in Philadelphia. He studied theater acting at the Professional Children's School of New York and Columbia University.[9][10]

Lumet's parents, Baruch and Eugenia (née Wermus) Lumet, were both veterans of the Yiddish theatre.[11] His father, who was an actor, director, producer and writer, was a Polish Jewish emigrant to the United States who was born in Warsaw.[12] Lumet's mother, who was a dancer, died when he was a child. He made his professional debut on radio at age four and stage debut at the Yiddish Art Theatre at age five.[13] As a child he also appeared in many Broadway plays,[11] including 1935's Dead End and Kurt Weill's The Eternal Road.

In 1935, aged 11, he appeared in a Henry Lynn short film, Papirossen (meaning "Cigarettes" in Yiddish), co-produced by radio star Herman Yablokoff. The film was shown in a theatrical play with the same title, based on a hit song, "Papirosn". The play and short film appeared in the Bronx McKinley Square Theatre.[14] In 1939 he made his only feature-length film appearance, at age 15, in One Third of a Nation.[15][16]

In 1939, Off-Broadway group and became its director, and continued directing in summer stock theatre, while teaching acting at the High School of Performing Arts.[15] He was the senior drama coach at the new 46th St. (Landmark) building of "Performing Arts' ("Fame"). The 25-year-old Lumet directed the drama department in a production of The Young and Fair.

Personal life

Lumet was married four times; the first three marriages ended in divorce. He was married to actress Rita Gam from 1949–55;[2] to socialite Gloria Vanderbilt from 1956–63; to Gail Jones (daughter of Lena Horne) from 1963–78, and to Mary Gimbel from 1980 until his death. He had two daughters by Jones: Amy, who was married to P. J. O'Rourke from 1990–1993, and actress/screenwriter Jenny, who had a leading role in his film Q & A. She also wrote the screenplay for the 2008 film Rachel Getting Married.[15][17]

Career in directing

Early career

Directing a TV show in 1953

Lumet began his career as a director with Off-Broadway productions and then evolved into a highly respected TV director. After working off-Broadway and in summer-stock, he began directing television in 1950, after working as an assistant to friend and then-director Yul Brynner. He soon developed a "lightning quick" method for shooting due to the high turnover required by television. As a result, while working for CBS he directed hundreds of episodes of Danger (1950–55), Mama (1949–57), and You Are There (1953–57), a weekly series which co-starred Walter Cronkite in one of his earliest leading roles. He chose Cronkite for the role of anchorman "because the premise of the show was so silly, was so outrageous, that we needed somebody with the most American, homespun, warm ease about him," Lumet said.[18]

He also directed original plays for Playhouse 90, Kraft Television Theatre and Studio One, filming around 200 episodes, which established him as "one of the most prolific and respected directors in the business," according to Turner Classic Movies. His ability to work quickly while shooting carried over to his film career.[2] Because the quality of many of the television dramas was so impressive, several of them were later adapted as motion pictures.

Directing Anna Magnani in The Fugitive Kind (1959)

His first movie, 12 Angry Men, was an auspicious beginning for Lumet. It was a critical success and established Lumet as a director skilled at adapting theatrical properties to motion pictures. For US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, seeing the film for the first time, became a "pivotal moment" in her life, as she was at that time considering a career in law. "It told me that I was on the right path," she said.[19] Fully half of Lumet's complement of films have originated in the theater.[20]

A controversial TV show he directed in 1960 gained him notoriety: The Sacco-Vanzetti Story on NBC. According to The New York Times, "the drama drew flack from the state of Massachusetts (where Sacco and Vanzetti were tried and executed) because it was thought to postulate that the condemned murderers were, in fact, wholly innocent. But the brouhaha actually did Lumet more good than harm, sending several prestigious film assignments his way.[21]

Directing Marlon Brando in The Fugitive Kind (1959)

He began adapting classic plays for both film and television. In 1959, he directed Marlon Brando, Joanne Woodward and Anna Magnani in the feature film The Fugitive Kind, based on the Tennessee Williams play Orpheus Descending. He later directed a live television version of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, which was followed by his 1962 film, A View from the Bridge, another psychological drama from a play written by Arthur Miller. This was followed by another Eugene O'Neill play turned to cinema, Long Day's Journey into Night, in 1962, with Katharine Hepburn gaining an Oscar nomination for her performance as a drug-addicted housewife; the four principal actors swept the acting awards at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival.[22] It was also voted one of the year's "Ten Best Films" by The New York Times.

Directing style and subjects

Realism and energetic style

Film critic Owen Gleiberman has observed that Lumet was a "hardboiled straight-shooter," who, because he was trained during the golden Age of television in the 1950s, became noted for his energetic style of directing. The words "Sidney Lumet" and "energy," he adds, became synonymous: "The energy was there in the quietest moments. It was an inner energy, a hum of existence that Lumet observed in people and brought out in them. . . [when he] went into the New York streets . . . he made them electric:[23]

It was a working class outer-borough energy. Lumet's streets were just as mean as Scorsese's, but Lumet's seemed plain rather than poetic. He channeled that New York skeezy vitality with such natural force that it was easy to overlook what was truly involved in the achievement. He captured that New York vibe like no one else because he saw it, lived it, breathed it – but then he had to go out and stage it, or re-create it, almost as if he were staging a documentary, letting his actors square off like random predators, insisting on the most natural light possible, making offices look as ugly and bureaucratic as they were because he knew, beneath that, that they weren't just offices but lairs, and that there was a deeper intensity, almost a kind of beauty, to catching the coarseness of reality as it truly looked.[23]


Describing scene with Treat Williams in Prince of the City (1981)

Lumet generally insisted on the collaborative nature of film, sometimes ridiculing the dominance of the "personal" director, writes film historian Frank P. Cunningham. As a result, Lumet became renowned among both actors and cinematographers "for his flexibility in the sharing of creative ideas with the writer, actor, and other artists."[24] According to Cunningham, Lumet "has no equal in the distinguished direction of superior actors," many coming from the theater. He was thereby able to draw "remarkable performances" from acting luminaries such as Ralph Richardson, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Katharine Hepburn, James Mason, Sophia Loren, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Blythe Danner, Rod Steiger, Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Newman, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Dustin Hoffman, Albert Finney, Simone Signoret, and Anne Bancroft. "Give him a good actor, and he just might find the great actor lurking within", wrote film critic Mick LaSalle.[25]

When necessary, Lumet would choose untrained actors, but stated, "over ninety percent of the time I want the best tools I can get: actors, writers, lighting men, cameramen, propmen."[24] Nonetheless, when he did use less "fully dimensional" actors in the cast of his film, he was still able to bring out superior and memorable acting performances, as he did with Nick Nolte, Anthony Perkins, Armand Assante, Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway, Timothy Hutton and Ali MacGraw, who herself referred to him as "every actor's dream."[26] In Fonda's opinion, "he was a master. Such control of his craft. He had strong, progressive values and never betrayed them."[27]

While the goal of all movies is to entertain, the kind of film in which I believe goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine one facet or another of his own conscience. It stimulates thought and sets the mental juices flowing.

Sidney Lumet[28]

Lumet believed that movies are an art and once stated that "The amount of attention paid to movies is directly related to pictures of quality."[29] Because he started his career as an actor, he became known as an "actor's director," and worked with the best of them over the years, a roster probably unequaled by any other director."[4] Acting scholar Frank P. Tomasulo agrees, and points out that many directors who are able to understand acting from an actor's perspective, were all "great communicators."[30]

According to film historians Gerald Mast and Bruce Kawin, Lumet's "sensitivity to actors and to the rhythms of the city have made him America's longest-lived descendant of the 1950s Neorealist tradition and its urgent commitment to ethical responsibility."[31] They cite his early film The Hill (1965) as "one of the most politically and morally radical films of the 1960s."

They add that beneath the social conflicts of Lumet's films lies the "conviction that love and reason will eventually prevail in human affairs," and that "law and justice will eventually be served – or not."[31] His debut film, Twelve Angry Men, was an acclaimed picture in its day: it was a model for liberal reason and fellowship in the Eisenhower era; or maybe it was an alarming example of how easily any jury could be swayed."[32] The film and its director were nominated for Academy Awards. Lumet was nominated for the Director's Guild Award and the film was widely praised by critics.[15]

The Encyclopedia of World Biography states that his films often featured actors who studied "Method acting", "characterized by an earthy, introspective style. A leading example of such "Method" actors would be Al Pacino, who, early in his career, studied under Method acting guru Lee Strasberg. Lumet also preferred the appearance of spontaneity in both his actors and settings, an "improvisational look achieved by shooting much of his work on location."[33]

Rehearsal and preparation

Lumet was a strong believer in rehearsal, and felt that if you rehearse correctly the actor will not lose spontaneity. According to acting author Ian Bernard, he felt that it gives actors the "entire arc of the role," which gives them the freedom to find that "magical accident."[34] Director Peter Bogdanovich asked him whether he rehearsed extensively before shooting, and Lumet replied "I like to rehearse a minimum of two weeks before I shoot."[4]

He was able to prepare and execute a production in rapid order, allowing him to consistently stay within a modest budget. When filming Prince of the City, for example, although there were over 130 speaking roles and 135 different locations, he was able to coordinate the entire shoot in 52 days. As a result, write historians Charles Harpole and Thomas Schatz, performers were eager to work with him as they considered him to be an "outstanding director of actors." And they note that "whereas many directors disliked rehearsals or advising actors on how to build their character, Lumet excelled at both."[29] As a result, he was able to give his performers a cinematic showcase for their abilities and help them deepen their acting contribution. Actor Christopher Reeve, who co-starred in Deathtrap, also pointed out that Lumet "knows how to talk technical language – if you want to work that way – he knows how to talk Method, he knows how to improvise, and he does it all equally well."[4]

Joanna Rapf, writing about the filming of The Verdict, states that Lumet gave a lot of personal attention to his actors, "listening to them, touching them." She describes how Lumet and star Paul Newman sat on a bench secluded from the main set, where Newman had taken his shoes off, in order to privately discuss an important scene about to be shot. . . . The actors walk through their scenes before the camera rolls. This preparation was done because Lumet likes to shoot a scene in one take, two at the most. "I call him "Speedy Gonzales," the only man I know who'll double-park in front of a whorehouse," kids Paul Newman privately. "He's arrogant about not shooting more than he has to. He doesn't give himself any protection. I know I would," Newman adds.[4] Film critic Betsey Sharkey agrees, adding that "he was a maestro of one or two takes years before Clint Eastwood would turn it into a respected specialty." Sharkey recalls, "[Faye] Dunaway once told me that Lumet worked so fast it was as if he were on roller skates. A racing pulse generated by a big heart."[35]

Character development

Biographer Joanna Rapf observes that Lumet had always been an "independent director," and liked to make films about "men who summon courage to challenge the system, about the little guy against the system."[4]:Intro This also includes the women characters in his films, such as Garbo Talks. "Anne Bancroft embodies the kind of character to whom Lumet is attracted – a committed activist for all kinds of causes, who stands up for the rights of the oppressed, who is lively, outspoken, courageous, who refuses to conform for the sake of convenience, and whose understanding of life allows her to die with dignity ... Garbo Talks in many ways is a valentine to New York."[4]

Throughout a 2006 interview, he reiterated that "he is fascinated by the human cost involved in following passions and commitments, and the cost those passions and commitments inflict on others." This theme is at the "core" of most of his movies, notes Rapf, "including his stories of corruption in the New York City Police Department and family dramas such as in Daniel.


Directing Michael Caine in the suspense thriller Deathtrap (1982)

According to film historian Stephen Bowles, Lumet proved himself "most comfortable and effective as a director of serious psychodramas and was most vulnerable when attempting light entertainments. His Academy Award nominations, for example, were all for character studies of men in crisis, from his first film, Twelve Angry Men, to The Verdict. Lumet was, literally, a child of the drama." He notes that "nearly all the characters in Lumet's gallery are driven by obsessions or passions that range from the pursuit of justice, honesty, and truth to the clutches of jealousy, memory, or guilt. It is not so much the object of their fixations but the obsessive condition itself that intrigues Lumet."[20]

Therefore, Bowles adds, "Lumet's protagonists tend to be isolated, unexceptional men who oppose a group or institution. Whether the protagonist is a member of a jury or party to a bungled robbery, he follows his instincts and intuition in an effort to find solutions. Lumet's most important criterion is not whether the actions of these men are right or wrong but whether the actions are genuine. If these actions are justified by the individual's conscience, this gives his heroes uncommon strength and courage to endure the pressures, abuses, and injustices of others. Frank Serpico, for example, is the quintessential Lumet hero in his defiance of peer group authority and the assertion of his own code of moral values."[20] Lumet in his autobiography described the film Serpico as "a portrait of a real rebel with a cause."[36]

Issues of social justice

Turner Classic Movies states that "it was the social realism which permeated his greatest work that truly defined Lumet  – the themes of youthful idealism beaten down by corruption and the hopelessness of inept social institutions allowed him to produce several trenchant and potent films that no other director could have made."[2] Serpico (1973) was the first of four "seminal" films he made in the 1970s that marked him as "one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation." It was the story of power and betrayal in the New York City police force, and was coupled with the "idea that innocence is lost in the face of corruption." The movie became a blueprint that Lumet would use to portray the inner world of cops, lawyers and street criminals, with only an "idealistic lone wolf battling seemingly impossible odds."[2]

"As a child of the Depression," writes Joanna Rapf, "growing up poor in New York City with poverty and corruption all around him, Lumet became concerned with the importance of justice to a democracy. He says he likes questioning things, people, institutions, what is considered by society as 'right' and 'wrong.'"[4] He admits, however, that he does not believe that art itself has the power to change anything. "There is, as he says, a lot of 'shit' to deal with in the entertainment industry, but the secret of good work is to maintain your honesty and your passion."[4]

Film historian David Thomson writes "He has steady themes: the fragility of justice, and the police and their corruption." He adds, "Lumet quickly became esteemed ... [and he] got a habit for big issues – Fail-Safe, The Pawnbroker, The Hill, – and seemed torn between dullness and pathos. ... Network ...  was the closest he had come to a successful comedy. He was that rarity of the 1970s, a director happy to serve his material – yet seemingly not touched or changed by it. ... His sensitivity to actors and to the rhythms of the city have made him "America's longest-lived descendant of the 1950s Neorealist tradition and its urgent commitment to ethical responsibility."[32]

Lumet, discussing one of his primary film subjects, police corruption, described his feelings for film magazine, Cinema Nation:

New York City settings

Lumet always preferred to work in New York, noted Lumet biographer Joanna Rapf, "shunning the dominance of Hollywood. By refusing to "go Hollywood," he soon became strongly identified with New York and filmed the majority of his films there. Like Woody Allen, he defined himself as a New Yorker. "I always like being in Woody Allen's world," he said. He claimed "the diversity of the City, its many ethnic neighborhoods, its art and its crime, its sophistication and its corruption, its beauty and its ugliness, all feed into what inspires him."[4] He felt that in order to create it is important to confront reality on a daily basis. For Lumet, "New York is filled with reality; Hollywood is a fantasyland."[4]

He used New York time and again as the backdrop – if not the symbol – of his "preoccupation with America's decline," according to film historians Scott and Barbara Siegel.[1] In discussing the significance of urban settings to Lumet, Bowles notes, "Within this context, Lumet is consistently attracted to situations in which crime provides the occasion for a group of characters to come together. Typically these characters are caught in a vortex of events they can neither understand nor control but which they must work to resolve."[20]

In a 2007 interview with New York magazine, he was asked, "Almost all of your films – from The Pawnbroker to your latest – have an intense level of that famous New York grit. Is being streetwise really such a difference between us and Hollywood?" Lumet replied: "In L.A., there's no streets! No sense of a neighborhood! They talk about us not knowing who lives in the same apartment complex as us – bullshit! I know who lives in my building. In L.A., how much can you really find out about anybody else? ... Really, it's just about human contact. It seems to me that our greatest problems today are coming out of the increasing isolation of people, everywhere."[37]

Use of contemporary Jewish themes

Like those of other Jewish directors from New York, such as Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, and Paul Mazursky, Lumet's characters often spoke overtly about controversial issues of the times. They felt unconstrained as filmmakers and their art became "filtered through their Jewish consciousness," notes film historian David Desser. Lumet, like the others, sometimes turned to Jewish themes in order to develop ethnic sensibilities that were characteristic of contemporary American culture,[38]:3 by dynamically highlighting its "unique tensions and cultural diversity." This was partly reflected in Lumet's preoccupation with city life.[38]:6 His film A Stranger Among Us, for example, is the story of a woman undercover police officer and her experiences in a Hasidic community within New York City.

The subject of "guilt," explains Desser, dominates many of Lumet's films. From his first feature film, 12 Angry Men (1957), in which a jury must decide the guilt or innocence of a young man, to Q & A (1990), in which a lawyer must determine the question of guilt and responsibility on the part of a maverick policeman, "guilt," writes Desser, "links the diverse parts of Lumet's varied and complex canon." Whereas in films like Murder on the Orient Express (1974), all of the suspects are guilty.[38]:172

His films were also characterized by a strong emphasis on tensions within the "family," with his apparent "insistence on the centrality of family life."[38]:172 This emphasis on the family also included "surrogate families," as in the police trilogy, Serpico (1973), Prince of the City (1981), and Q&A. An "untraditional family" is also inherent in Dog Day Afternoon (1975).[38]:172

Directing techniques

Lumet had always preferred naturalism and/or realism, according to Joanna Rapf. He did not like the "decorator's look"; rarely did he want "the camera to call attention to itself; the editing must be unobtrusive." His cinematographer, Ron Fortunato, said "Sidney flips if he sees a look that's too artsy."[4]

Partly because he was willing and able to take on so many significant social issues and problems, "he can deliver powerhouse performances from lead actors, and fine work from character actors," writes film historian Thomson. He is "one of the stalwart figures of New York moviemaking. He abides by good scripts, when he gets them."[32]

According to Katz's Film Encyclopedia, "Although critical evaluation of Lumet's work wavered widely from film to film, on the whole the director's body of work has been held in high esteem. Critical opinion has generally viewed him as a sensitive and intelligent director who possesses considerable good taste, the courage to experiment with a variety of techniques and styles, and an uncommon gift for handling actors."[15] Lumet, unlike some other directors, tried to keep a professional distance from his actor's personal lives: "Elia Kazan used to really try to get inside the head and psyche of everybody he worked with," Lumet told The New York Times in 2007, referring to the influential director. "I'm the exact opposite school. I don't like to get involved."[39]

In a quote from his book, Lumet emphasized the logistics of directing:

In 1970, Lumet said, "If you're a director, then you've got to direct ... I don't believe that you should sit back and wait until circumstances are perfect before you and it's all gorgeous and marvelous ... I never did a picture because I was hungry ... Every picture I did was an active, believable, passionate wish. Every picture I did I wanted to do ... I'm having a good time."

Lumet, in a statement posted on IMDB, said, "If I don't have a script I adore, I do one I like. If I don't have one I like, I do one that has an actor I like or that presents some technical challenge." Critic Justin Chang adds that Lumet's skill as a director and in developing strong stories, continued up to his last film in 2007, noting that his "nimble touch with performers, his ability to draw out great warmth and zesty humor with one hand and coax them toward ever darker, more anguished extremes of emotion with the other, was on gratifying display in his ironically titled final film, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead."[41]

Vision of future films

In the same interview with New York magazine, when asked what he foresaw as the next wave of filmmaking, he responded, "Well, we were shooting out in Astoria, and one day I was watching all these kids standing outside a school near the studio. It was just marvelous: Indian girls in saris, kids from Pakistan, Korea, kids from all over. So I think you'll see more directors from these communities, telling their stories. You know, I started out making films about Jews and Italians and Irish because I didn't know anything else."[37]


Lumet died at the age of 86 on April 9, 2011, in his residence in Manhattan, from lymphoma.[9][28] When asked in a 1997 interview about how he wanted to "go out," Lumet responded, "I don't think about it. I'm not religious. I do know that I don't want to take up any space. Burn me up and scatter my ashes over Katz's Delicatessen."[42]

Following his death, numerous tributes have been paid for his enduring body of work, marked by many memorable portrayals of New York City. Fellow New York directors Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese both paid tribute to Lumet. Allen called him the "quintessential New York film-maker", while Scorsese said "our vision of the city has been enhanced and deepened by classics like Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and, above all, the remarkable Prince of the City."[43] Lumet also drew praise from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who called him "one of the great chroniclers of our city".[43]

Lumet was called "the last of the great movie moralists" in a tribute remembering a career in which he "guided many of the world's most respected actors through roles that connected with the conscience of multiple generations."[44]


According to film historian Bowles, Lumet succeeded in becoming a leading drama filmmaker partly because "his most important criterion [when directing] is not whether the actions of his protagonists are right or wrong, but whether their actions are genuine." And where those actions are "justified by the individual's conscience, this gives his heroes uncommon strength and courage to endure the pressures, abuses, and injustices of others." His films have thereby continually given us the "quintessential hero acting in defiance of peer group authority and asserting his own code of moral values."[20]

Lumet's published memoir about his life in film, Making Movies (1996), is "extremely lighthearted and infectious in its enthusiasm for the craft of moviemaking itself," writes Bowles, "and is in marked contrast to the tone and style of most of his films. Perhaps Lumet's signature as a director is his work with actors – and his exceptional ability to draw high-quality, sometimes extraordinary performances from even the most unexpected quarters"[20] Jake Coyle, Associated Press writer, agrees: "While Lumet has for years gone relatively underappreciated, actors have consistently turned in some of their most memorable performances under his stewardship. From Katharine Hepburn to Faye Dunaway, Henry Fonda to Paul Newman, Lumet is known as an actor's director,"[45] and to some, like Ali MacGraw, he is considered "every actor's dream."[26]

Academy of Motion Pictures President Frank Pierson said, "Lumet is one of the most important film directors in the history of American cinema, and his work has left an indelible mark on both audiences and the history of film itself."[46] Boston Herald writer James Verniere observes that "at a time when the American film industry is intent on seeing how low it can go, Sidney Lumet remains a master of the morally complex American drama."[47]

Noting that Lumet's "compelling stories and unforgettable performances were his strong suit," director and producer Steven Spielberg believes that Lumet was "one of the greatest directors in the long history of film."[48] Al Pacino, upon hearing of Lumet's death, stated that with his films, "he leaves a great legacy, but more than that, to the people close to him, he will remain the most civilized of humans and the kindest man I have ever known."[48]

He did not win an individual Academy Award, although he did receive an Academy Honorary Award in 2005 and 14 of his films were nominated for various Oscars, such as Network, which was nominated for 10, winning 4. In 2005, Lumet received an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement for his "brilliant services to screenwriters, performers, and the art of the motion picture." Upon winning recognition from the Academy, Lumet said, "I wanted one, damn it, and I felt I deserved one."[44] Nonetheless, director Spike Lee commented that "his great work lives on with us forever. Much more important than Oscar. Ya-dig?"[49]

A few months after Lumet's death in April 2011, TV commentator Human Rights First inaugurated its "Sidney Lumet Award for Integrity in Entertainment" for the TV show, The Good Wife, along with giving awards to two Middle East activists who had worked for freedom and democracy. Lumet had worked with Human Rights First on a media project related to the depiction of torture and interrogation on television.[51]

Sight & Sound magazine conducts a poll every ten years to publish a list called the Ten Greatest Films of All Time. In 2012 David Michod, PJ Hogan and Cyrus Frisch voted for "Network". Frisch commented: "Even Berlusconi might have learned a few things about the power of the media watching this film."[52] Network was listed as the 224th best film.[53]


Year Film Cast
1957 12 Angry Men Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, E. G. Marshall, Joseph Sweeney
1958 Stage Struck Henry Fonda, Susan Strasberg, Christopher Plummer
1959 That Kind of Woman George Sanders
1959 The Fugitive Kind Marlon Brando, Joanne Woodward, Anna Magnani, Maureen Stapleton
1961 A View From the Bridge Raf Vallone, Jean Sorel, Carol Lawrence
1962 Long Day's Journey into Night Katharine Hepburn, Sir Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards, Dean Stockwell
1964 The Pawnbroker Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald
1964 Fail-Safe Henry Fonda, Dan O'Herlihy, Walter Matthau, Larry Hagman
1965 The Hill Sean Connery, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen, Ossie Davis, Roy Kinnear, Sir Michael Redgrave
1966 The Group Candice Bergen, Joan Hackett
1967 The Deadly Affair James Mason, Harry Andrews, Simone Signoret, Maximilian Schell, Roy Kinnear
1968 Bye Bye Braverman Jack Warden
1968 The Sea Gull Vanessa Redgrave, Simone Signoret, James Mason, David Warner, Denholm Elliott
1969 The Appointment Omar Sharif, Anouk Aimée
1970 King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis Paul Newman (narration), Joanne Woodward (narration)
1970 Last of the Mobile Hot Shots Lynn Redgrave, James Coburn
1971 The Anderson Tapes Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Alan King
1972 Child's Play James Mason, Robert Preston, Beau Bridges
1972 The Offence Sean Connery, Ian Bannen, Trevor Howard
1973 Serpico Al Pacino, Tony Roberts, John Randolph
1974 Lovin' Molly Anthony Perkins, Beau Bridges, Blythe Danner, Susan Sarandon
1974 Murder on the Orient Express Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Martin Balsam, Anthony Perkins, Sir John Gielgud
1975 Dog Day Afternoon Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning
1976 Network Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty
1977 Equus Richard Burton, Peter Firth, Joan Plowright
1978 The Wiz Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Richard Pryor, Mabel King, Lena Horne
1980 Just Tell Me What You Want Alan King, Ali MacGraw, Tony Roberts, Keenan Wynn
1981 Prince of the City Treat Williams, Jerry Orbach
1982 Deathtrap Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon
1982 The Verdict Paul Newman, Jack Warden, James Mason, Charlotte Rampling
1983 Daniel Timothy Hutton, Mandy Patinkin, Ellen Barkin
1984 Garbo Talks Anne Bancroft, Ron Silver, Carrie Fisher
1986 Power Richard Gere, Julie Christie, Gene Hackman
1986 The Morning After Jane Fonda, Jeff Bridges, Raúl Juliá
1988 Running on Empty River Phoenix, Judd Hirsch
1989 Family Business Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman, Matthew Broderick
1990 Q & A Timothy Hutton, Nick Nolte, Armand Assante, Jenny Lumet
1992 A Stranger Among Us Melanie Griffith, John Pankow
1993 Guilty as Sin Don Johnson, Rebecca De Mornay, Jack Warden
1997 Night Falls on Manhattan Andy García, Ian Holm, Lena Olin, Richard Dreyfuss
1997 Critical Care James Spader, Kyra Sedgwick, Helen Mirren, Albert Brooks, Anne Bancroft
1999 Gloria Jeremy Northam
2001–2002 100 Centre Street (TV series) Alan Arkin, LaTanya Richardson
2004 Strip Search Glenn Close, Maggie Gyllenhaal
2006 Find Me Guilty Vin Diesel, Alex Rocco, Peter Dinklage
2007 Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei

Academy Awards

The following films directed by Lumet have received Academy Awards and nominations:

Year Film Nominations Awards
1957 12 Angry Men 3
1962 Long Day's Journey into Night 1
1965 The Pawnbroker 1
1970 King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis 1
1973 Serpico 2
1974 Murder on the Orient Express 6 1
1975 Dog Day Afternoon 6 1
1976 Network 10 4
1977 Equus 3
1978 The Wiz 4
1981 Prince of the City 1
1982 The Verdict 5
1986 The Morning After 1
1988 Running on Empty 2

Other awards


  1. ^ a b Siegel, Scott and Barbara. The Encyclopedia of Hollywood (2004) Checkmark Books, 256
  2. ^ a b c d e "TCM Biography"
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Sidney Lumet: In memory" Chicago Sun Times, April 9, 2011
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Rapf, Joanna E. Sidney Lumet: Interviews, Univ. Press of Mississippi (2006)
  5. ^ "Sidney Lumet", The Sunday Herald, Scotland, April 10, 2011
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  7. ^ Messina, Elizabeth (2012). What's His Name? John Fiedler: The Man the Face the Voice. AuthorHouse. p. 42.  
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  56. ^ " Awards for That Kind of Woman". Retrieved January 10, 2010. 
  57. ^ "7th Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". Retrieved December 28, 2009. 
  58. ^ "Festival de Cannes: A Stranger Among Us". Retrieved August 13, 2009. 

External links

  • Sidney Lumet at the Internet Movie Database
  • Sidney Lumet at the Internet Broadway Database
  • Sidney Lumet at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
  • "The Films of Sidney Lumet" on YouTube, 4-minute compilation of film clips
  • "Last Word" New York Times April 21, 2011, video (14 minutes)
  • Archive of American Television, TV Legends interview, 1999 video, 6-parts, 3 hours
  • Cinematographer Owen Roizman discusses working with Lumet, 2 minutes
  • TV interview about "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" on YouTube video, 5 min.
  • FilmForce profile
  • A serious voice in American Cinema
  • FilmStew interview
  • On the digital revolution NYFF07 on YouTube
  • Fresh Air interview from 2006 (audio)
  • DGA Quarterly interview
  • New site for fans and experts to upload reviews and essays, launched Nov 2010
  • The New York TimesObituary in
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