Many of the movie thrillers I have come to enjoy over the years were directed by Sidney Lumet, who died from lymphoma at his home in Manhattan, New York, on April 9, 2011, aged 86. After serving in World War II, he created his own theatre workshop. Along with theatre and film, he was also successful as a TV director. Coincidentally, his first movie, 12 Angry Men (1957), was the first I saw. When I was kid, I spent many Friday and Saturday nights watching the late movies on TV. The drama in the story, adapted from a play, knocked me out as these 12 angry men argue the case, with 11 of them ready to condemn a man for a crime he’s innocent of. Henry Fonda plays the lone dissenter who eventually convinces them of his innocence.
Never shy to film a controversial story, hard-hitting dramas such as: The Hill (1965), an early role for Sean Connery surviving the tough boot-camp army regime.
Child’s Play (1972), a dark and surreal study of mind-control and savagery in a British boarding school.
The Offence (1972), another dark role for Sean Connery focussing on the effects police work can have on the mind, particularly when dealing with heinous crimes. These themes, along with those of corruption and dysfunctional family relationships became a driving factor.
Serpico (1973), a power-house role for Al Pacino as real-life cop, Frank Serpico, who refuses to buckle to peer-pressure, in a stand against corruption that almost cost him his life.
The Pawnbroker (1964), based on the novel by Edward Lewis Wallant, gave Rod Steiger one of the most powerful roles of his career as a Holocaust survivor haunted by his memories of the concentration camp and the pain of losing his family and wife, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975), another true story with Al Pacino again playing the main role of the homosexual bank robber, bungling a heist in a desperate attempt to fund his partner’s sex change operation.
Similar themes of a heist-gone-wrong and surveillance was explored again in:
The Anderson Tapes (1971), starring Sean Connery as a career criminal, leading his gang to rob an apartment block with disastrous results.
Network (1976), starred Peter Finch, William Holden, Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway in a scathing black comedy satire on the TV media manipulation.
Equus (1977), based on the Peter Schaffer play, starred Richard Burton in one of his best roles, as a middle-aged psychiatrist who questions the meaning and validity of his own life as he tried to unravel the mind of a disturbed patient who blinded six horses.
Other notable dark dramas followed covering similar themes:
Prince of the City (1981), Deathtrap (1982), The Verdict (1982), Q & A (1990), Night Falls on Manhattan (1997), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007).
Lumet’s early film: Fail-Safe (1964) dealt with the end of the world through nuclear holocaust, triggered by man’s misplaced trust in technology, and was the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s hilarious black comedy: Dr. Strangelove. Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963). It was successfully remade as:Fail Safe (2000), a one-off TV special starring a stellar cast of actors. Among them George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Richard Dreyfuss and Brian Dennehy.
Very much an independent director, Sidney Lumet’s work was unflinching in its depictions of a dark and volatile world, with individuals caught up in the sprawling cities, at war with bureaucracy and corruption, fighting for justice and truth.