Saturday, April 9, 2011

Director Sidney Lumet Dies at 86

Sidney Lumet, June 25, 1924 - April 9, 2011

 Sidney Lumet, probably the greatest director of the American crime drama, has died Saturday night at the age of 86 in his home in Manhattan.

Lumet, who was nominated for the best director Oscar on four separate occasions between the late 50s and early 80s and who received an honorary Academy Award in 2005, suffered from lymphoma.

Born in Philadelphia to two Yiddish stage performers, Lumet served as a radar repair man in the second world war before directing theater productions in New York. This apprenticeship would form the basis for his later screen career. Lumet typically corralled his actors through a lengthy rehearsal period and then shot the film at speed. He made his feature debut with the acclaimed 12 Angry Men, a claustrophobic courtroom drama that starred Henry Fonda as a rogue juror.

Lumet's preferred location was the cauldron of inner-city New York and his favored subject matter tended to be the porous line between order and criminality. Many of his most famous movies - The Pawnbroker, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Verdict - stand as tense, earthy morality plays. But the director also took the occasional detour along the way, as evidenced by his plush version of Murder on the Orient Express, his Oscar-winning media satire Network, or 1978's The Wiz, a Motown musical update of The Wizard of Oz, starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.

Lumet, whose career spanned six decades and more than 50 films, never won ans Oscar, although he was nominated four times as best director. 

"All I want is to get better and quantity can help me solve my problems," he once admitted. "I'm thrilled by the idea that I'm not even sure how many films I've done. If I don't have a script I adore, I do the 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." 

Along the way, he worked with the likes of Marlon Brando, Katharine Hepburn, Paul Newman, Sean Connery, Albert Finney, Ingrid Bergman and Al Pacino.

Lumet took a memorable final bow with "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" - an acclaimed crime saga that proved its creator was still a force to be reckoned with. "The veteran director Sidney Lumet may be 84 years old," wrote Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw in January 2008. "But in this superb heist thriller, he breaks out the shocks - and the twists - with the ferocity of a hungry youngster."

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