Closing Credits: Sidney Lumet
12 Angry Men. It's almost all that this Closing Credits article needs to say for Sidney Lumet, and yet there's so much more.
Sidney Lumet has died aged 86. The writer, producer but most importantly the director, a director who delivered one of the best thrillers of all time, a film ranked number seven on IMDB of the top films of all time.
The 1957 film 12 Angry Men is a classic, and not in the throwaway meaning that is assigned to so many films these days, but it's an abject lesson in writing and directing and it's where we see a superb thriller based in a room with twelve characters and some wonderful actors giving fabulous performances, not just from the powerful Henry Fonda.
The film marked his move away from television direction where he learned his craft alongside other soon to be great directors and writers. Interestingly 12 Angry Men was originally a television play but was adapted with Henry Fonda producing who wanted Sidney Lumet to direct it.
There are many aspects of the film which are studied to this day, however at the time it wasn't hailed as a success and it failed to make a profit, Fonda didn't even get his deferred salary, but he still proclaimed it one of the best three films he'd ever made.
The Fugitive Kind in 1960 may have been written by Tennessee Williams and starred Marlon Brando, but again it never made a huge impact, and while the adaptation from Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, Vu du Pont, in 1962 may have promised much, it was more controversial for the portrayal of its homosexual story line.
Between these features he was still directing television episodes and films, but recognition began to return with the 1962 film Long Day's Journey into Night which was based on Eugene O'Neill's play about his own life and breaking from a misfit family and becoming a writer. It starred Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards and Dean Stockwell.
Fail-Safe in 1964 saw him reunite with Henry Fonda and a fantastic cast of some great actors for a frightening film about the brink of nuclear war and how an small failure could cause U.S. bombers to launch against their targets with just one fail-safe keeping them from launching their attack. It's a film which was remade with an equally impressive cast and filmed in real time, and although a score was intended, none was delivered with the final cut.
The Pawnbroker in the same year was a powerful film with Rod Steiger playing a Jewish business man who was haunted by his memories of the Holocaust, then followed these with The Hill in 1965 starring Sean Connery. This was another film with no score and also shot in black and white, and was set in a North African detention centre during World War II.
His films carried a serious and clearly non-Hollywood tone, and he tried to steer away from the studio involvement that he saw as interfering according to The Guardian, something he wrote about in his book Making Movies in 1995.
The Group and The Deadly Affair starring James Mason and adapted from the John le Carré novel, both in 1966, were the start of a run of films which weren't his greatest but delivered good stories and starred strong actors, a run that included an adaptation of Chekov's The Sea Gull.
Before making The Anderson Tapes with Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon and Christopher Walken in 1971, he directed a documentary about Martin Luther King entitled King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis.
He worked again with Sean Connery in The Offence, following The Anderson Tapes, another serious topic of a British police detective who had worked for twenty years and had been destroyed by the things he'd seen, burned out and finally snapping while interviewing a child molester, he becomes something he'd fought so long against.
Then Serpico with Al Pacino followed in 1973, another landmark film in his career, as well as Pacino's. Murder on the Orient Express was a film that also gathered him a lot of positive comments with some saying it's one of the best Agatha Christie adaptations there is, and it certainly carried an amazing ensemble cast.
That was followed in 1975 by another Al Pacino film, Dog Day Afternoon, and another great moment for Lumet's career. A wonderful film, a wonderful performance, and undoubtedly one of his best films.
Follow that with the 1976 Network, which features another great cast and a stunning performance by William Holden with his iconic speech in a superb story, and Lumet was having a fantastic few years. Network was nominated for ten Oscars but won only four, and none of them for director.
Looking at Oscars and BAFTAs and Lumet was never a big winner. He was nominated often but never won other than his honorary awards, that's not to say he never won as director as there were many awards ceremonies to recognise his talent.
So with that string of mammoth films it wasn't a surprise that he was going to have a poor film on his hands, and a few came along including The Wiz in 1978, that Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor starring.
In 1982 he directed an adaptation of the Ira Levin play Deathtrap with Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine, a film I remember seeing a number of times and rather enjoyed, even if it didn't set the critics on fire.
That same year he directed The Verdict with Paul Newman playing a drunk lawyer trying to redeem himself, a great performance for him. The film also starred Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden and James Mason. Another great film with an amazing leading actor, something he was never short of in his films and it's fair to say that actors really did like working for him, and some loved it.
Around this time there were some films that are all too easy to pass over, Daniel in 1983 from E.L. Doctorow; Power in 1986 starring Richard Gere, Julie Christie, Gene Hackman, Kate Capshaw and Denzel Washington, and The Morning After in the same year with Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges in a powerful film about a woman who wakes up after a drunken night to find a dead man next to her and no answers.
Running on Empty in 1988 with River Pheonix as a boy running with his parents from the FBI for something they did in their past and Family Business in 1989 with Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman and Matthew Broderick seemed to mark the beginning of the sunset of his career and a number of films didn't seem to provide anything new or exciting.
That was until Find Me Guilty where a little of that Lumet magic returned with a surprising lead, in Vin Diesel, but it was his last film in 2007, and a full stop on his career, that marked an impressive return to form, a reminder of just who Sidney Lumet is. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead was a superb thriller starring a great cast of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Michael Shannon and Amy Ryan. It's a great film that also peaks in Lumet's career.
Film has lost a great director, and we should savour some of the great films he has brought us, films that may never falter in their power and enjoyment.