An Oscar, at last!
Despite several nominations, the Academy award has always eluded Sidney Lumet. RANDOR GUY writes ...
Elated... Sidney Lumet with his Oscar for Lifetime Achievement.
FIVE TIMES the `Best man' but never the `Bridegroom' that was the fate of the 80-year-old filmmaker, Sidney Lumet, who received the Life Achievement Honorary Oscar Award on February 27.
Lumet's list of movies is long but mention must be made of the memorable milestones in his career, some of which have been hailed as classics.
Sidney Lumet was born on June 25, 1924, in Philadelphia, U.S. His father, Baruch Lumet, was an actor and mother, Eugenia, a dancer both worked in the Yiddish (Jewish) theatre. Lumet began acting as a child on the same stage and later graduated to Broadway. He fell in love with New York City where most of his movies are located. In fact in some of them, the place is almost a character. When the `Golden Age of Television' dawned, he was drawn to direction and worked on many live TV plays during the 1950s. This rich experience stood him in good stead when he began to make movies.
He made a splash when he directed the hit TV play by Reginald Rose, which opened the doors to Hollywood. The break came thanks to Henry Fonda. And his debut movie, "Twelve Angry Men," is now a classic.
In this film, 12 men sit as jury to give their verdict on a murder case. The killing is not shown nor the accused. The action takes place in a room except for the last scene, when the onlyman (Henry Fonda) who raises doubts, and succeeds in changing their minds about the guilt of the accused, walks out. A remarkable performance by Fonda, who was also one of the producers.
The camera roams around the room, probing the 11 men who judge the guilty through the cloudy prism of their own lives, inner rages, phobias, and complexes. The movie received three Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Screenplay and Direction (Lumet), but won none.
Another court room drama by Lumet was " The Verdict." Paul Newman plays a failed lawyer who takes on a case of medical malpractice against a hospital and wins it. He was nominated for Best Actor but did not get it.
Lumet with his early roots in theatre was naturally drawn to the works of famed American playwrights. One of them was Tennessee Williams. Lumet turned his play "Orpheus Descending," into "The Fugitive Kind" (1960). It had Marlan Brando, Italian actress Anna Magnani and Joanne Woodward (Mrs. Paul Newman). It was a typical world of Williamsian characters and small town misfits. However, the movie did not do well.
The next was the filmed version of Eugene O' Neill `s classical, autobiographical play, "Long Day's Journey Into Night" (1962). It is all about an aging actor (Sir Ralph Richardson), his drug-addicted wife (Katharine Hepburn) their sons, one of whom is an alcoholic.
Shot with affection, Lumet rises to great heights of finesse in direction. Kate Hepburn is simply superb and was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress but did not win it. The last shot of this movie is famous. Sir Ralph, Kate Hepburn, Jason Robards Jr. and Dean Stockwell sit round a table. Each is lost in his/her world of fantasy induced by drinks or drugs. A distant lighthouse beam (the period is early 20th century in Connecticut) sweeps across the room with disturbing regularity of less than a minute. The camera withdraws slowly. The walls disappear. And all the characters sit in a limbo of black and get smaller and smaller as the beam sweeps across them. End of movie!
Arthur Miller was another playwright whose play Lumet filmed. It was "A View From The Bridge" (1961). A New York dock-worker falls for his wife's niece and his world explodes when she announces her engagement. It was made in many languages but did not fare as well as expected.
Another classic of Lumet's is "The Pawnbroker" (1965). A Jewish man in a New York slum area is haunted by his traumatic experience in a Nazi prison camp during the Holocaust. Rod Steiger as the troubled and suffering man gave a splendid performance and was nominated for an Oscar. This movie was one of the earliest in Hollywood to use the now familiar `jump-cut' editing to recall the past, an innovation used first by the New Wave French filmmakers like Alain Resnais, Jean Luc Godard and such masters.
Agatha Christie's best seller resulted in another classic, " Murder On The Orient Express" (1974).
It was a hit and received six Oscar nominations and Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her role.
Yet, another Lumet classic is " Network" (1976). An in-depth look into the corruption in media networks. A biting satire written by the noted playwright Paddy Chayevsky, it was a bold expose of the world of manipulative mass media like television and how networks and funding sponsors contribute
The movie had Robert Duvall, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, and William Holden in the main roles.
"Network" proved a sensation and received nine Oscar nominations and won four Awards including one for Faye Dunaway for Best Actress.
Two incompetent bank robbers are cornered in a bank in New York and this premise was made into a classic by Lumet as " Dog Day Afternoon" (1975).
As the anti-hero, Al Pacino is scintillating. It got five oscar nominations and took the gold for Best Screenplay. The movie was a major hit.
Lumet's other movies of worth include " The Anderson Tapes" (1971, it had Sean Connery, and Martin Balsam), "Fail Safe"(1964), "Serpico"(1973, a hit about corruption in New York police, it had Al Pacino in the lead which won him an Oscar nomination.)
Sidney Lumet married four times and had two daughters. He is the author of a best selling book `Making Movies.'
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