One of the quintessential American filmmakers of the 20th century, Sidney Lumet passed away earlier this morning at his home in Manhattan, at age 86. His stepdaughter, Leslie Gimbel, attributed his death to complications arising from lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes).
Born in Philadelphia on June 25th, 1924, to actor Baruch Lumet and dancer Eugenia Wemus Lumet, Sidney Lumet actually began performing on Broadway as a kid during the 1930s and made his film acting debut at age 15 in … One Third of a Nation…
Lumet would go on to become a successful television director during the 1950s, helming multiple episodes of shows like Danger, You Are There, The Best of Broadway, and The Alcoa Hour. He made his feature-length film directorial debut in 1957 with Twelve Angry Men, a multiple Oscar-nominee that the American Film Institute (AFI) ranks as the second greatest courtroom drama of all time.
Twelve Angry Men tells the tale of a lone juror (Henry Fonda) who slowly convinces his fellow jurors that the individual on trial – a young Spanish-American with a criminal record who has been accused of murdering his father – is in fact innocent. A dialogue-heavy piece that boasts strong performances all around, the socially-conscious courtroom drama set a precedent for Lumet’s later works – in terms of its tone, style, and subject matter.
Armed with a preference for shooting on location in the streets of New York – and not on the back lots of Hollywood – Lumet would go on to direct several acclaimed, gritty dramas and thrillers during the ’60s and ’70s. Among the numerous social issues that Lumet touched on throughout this time period ranged from everyday crimes and city life (The Pawnbroker) to the criminal justice system (Serpico) and even the motivation behind criminal behavior itself in the Oscar-winning 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon.
Lumet did occasionally work outside of the contemporary crime/drama genre during those two decades, and the results ranged from well received – his 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder On the Orient Express – to the box office failure of his Wizard of Oz-inspired musical with Michael Jackson, The Wiz, in 1978.
While he was never awarded an Oscar for his work as a director, Lumet was nominated four times over the course of his career. Besides receiving nods for Twelve Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon, Lumet also received a nomination for his 1982 courtroom drama The Verdict, and for one of his most famous films, the 1976 motion picture Network – a satirical piece about a TV anchor (Peter Finch, who won a posthumous Oscar for the role) whose onscreen rants against what he perceives as corruption in American society are exploited by the network for profit. It is also the film responsible for the now famous expression, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Lumet remained active throughout the ’80s and ’90s, directing such films as Power, Running On Empty, Family Business, Guilty As Sin, and Gloria. He worked on the television show 100 Centre Street from 2001-2002, and helmed the real-life crime drama/comedy Find Me Guilty with Vin Diesel in 2006. The last film Lumet directed was the acclaimed drama/thriller Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, which starred Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers who conspire to rob their parents’ jewelry shop – with horrible consequences.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences did finally present Lumet with an honorary Academy Award in 2005, in lieu of his highly decorated and accomplished career as a filmmaker.
Sidney Lumet is survived by his wife Mary Gimbel, his biological daughters Amy and Jenny Lumet, his stepchildren Bailey and Leslie Gimbel, and numerous grandchildren.
We here at Screen Rant offer our sincere condolences to Mr. Lumet’s family and friends, and wish them the best in this difficult time.
R.I.P. Sidney Lumet: June 25th, 1924 – April 9th, 2011.