Directed classic films such as “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon”
Sidney Lumet has died. The Oscar nominated director was 86.
The cause was lymphoma.
In a career that spanned six decades, Lumet directed "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Serpico," films that chronicled an urban landscape in moral and physical decay.
He was nominated four times for a Best Director Academy Award, but never won. Lumet did finally receive an honorary Oscar in 2005.
Lumet became as identified with New York as Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, with the city serving as the backdrop for many of his most memorable films such as "Prince of the City" and "The Pawnbroker."
However, that perception ignores the fact that his films breached the boundaries of Manhattan to focus on other figures in the midst of ethical crisis — be it Paul Newman's alcoholic Boston attorney in "The Verdict" or Christine Lahti's Sixties radical on the run in "Running On Empty."
Perhaps his wildest and most successful film was "Network," a caustic satire of the television news industry and its voracious appetite for ratings. Though some critics at the time claimed that its image of messianic network anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) was over the top, today he would slide easily into one of the cable news chairs.
But Lumet knew the world of which he spoke. The Philadelphia-born Lumet got his start as an actor and director in off-Broadway and Broadway productions before snagging a job at CBS during the Golden Age of live television.
He attracted Hollywood's attention directing television plays for programs such as “Studio One" and “Playhouse 90," before breaking into film in 1957 with "12 Angry Men." The Henry Fonda vehicle centered on a lone juror and his passionate efforts to dissuade his fellow jury members from rushing to a hasty conviction.
Throughout the 1960s, Lumet directed a mixture of stage adaptations such as "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and "The Fugitive Kind" and issue dramas such as "The Hill."
He did not begin to hit his artist stride, however, until he directed 1966's "The Pawnbroker." The look at a Holocaust survivor (Rod Steiger) haunted by grief and loss and moldering away in a New York ghetto presaged the urban dramas that made Lumet's reputation.
Partnering with Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Serpico" the two crafted gripping examinations of corruption and celebrity using two ripped from the headlines true stories. Indeed, the 1970s were a particularly fruitful period for Lumet, with the director's unflinching look at anti-establishment figures such as Pacino's bank robber in "Dog Day" and crusading cop in "Serpico" perfectly fitting the zeitgeist of the decade.
Though his career fizzled in the 1980s and 90s, with turgid melodramas such as "The Morning After" and lead footed comedies like "Family Business," Lumet's final film provided him with a perfect career capper.
"Before the Devil Knows Your Dead" (2007) was a critically lauded crime thriller, centering on two brothers and a jewelry store robbery gone horribly wrong. It was a reminder of the kind of morally complex stories that Lumet wove so well.
Lumet is survived by his wife, stepdaughter Leslie Gimbel, stepson Bailey Gimble, daughters Amy Lumet and Jenny Lumet. He had nine grandchildren and a great grandson.
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