Lumet, Sidney: 10 Greatest Films–Part 8

Sidney Lumet’s life (1924-2007) is the story of one of the most vibrant filmmakers in the United States, a well-rounded showbusiness personality who started to perform at the age of four and has contributed as an artist to every medium of entertainment: stage, television, and film.

Lumet was always perceived as a uniquely New York director.

In his rave review of Lumet’s latest film, Q&A, about a corrupt police officer (Nick Nolte), Vincent Canby wrote in the N.Y. Times: “Nobody makes movies about New York with quite the same contradictory feelings and rush of excitement as Mr. Lumet.  Here he finds a New York City that will never be seen from the window of a Grayline Sightseeing bus.” Indeed, when it comes to New York City, Lumet has discovered locales, characters, and issues that no director has shown before.  As Canby observed: “Lumet also fills his films with characters (and with wonderful actors to play them) that are immediately familiar and yet are so vivid they seem to be new: hookers, shyster lawyers, pimps, fixers and other flotsam.”


Lumet’s films also reflect the New York mentality and psyche with great accuracy.  For example, Q&A may be seen as a cautionary tale.  Rooted in the end of Mayor Koch’s regime as the City’s mayor, it shows (as did Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing) that New Yorkers no longer repress their ethnic antipathies and that their hate might turn to violence.


Lumet’s Ten Greatest Films

Twelve Angry Men

Long Day’s Journey into Night

The Pawnborker

Murder on the Orient Express


Dog Day Afternoon


Prince of the City

The Verdict



Each of these ten movies is a masterwork, representing the best, not only in the director’s oeuvre, but in the American cinema.  The book will describe the making of these films, their reception by critics and audiences, and their status as film art today.


The work of Lumet was particularly in danger in Hollywood of the late l980s, with its emphasis on the teen market, neglect of serious-adult entertainment, and its focus on violence and special effects–all at the expense of dialogue and characterization.  True, Lumet is concerned that the kinds of pictures he wants to make are in danger, because of inflation in film costs and because the “adult movie audience” has been knocked for a loop by the Steven Spielberg-George Lucas kind of films and level of grosses.  For example, despite rave reviews and awards, Prince of the City was only a moderate success at the box office. “I don’t think technology is the enemy,” Lumet said recently, “I just don’t think it should show so much.”


Lumet’s films are shown with great success on TV, demonstrating their unfailing appeal among younger moviegoers.  I have no doubt that the VCR Revolution, which eventually will see the release of all of Lumet’s films on video cassettes, will earn him numerous new fans, assuring the immortality of his work.