“There’s no such thing as a small part, just small actors.” – Sidney Lumet
Being out of town delayed this post by a few days, but when you’ve contributed to American cinema what Sidney Lumet did, an appreciation is better late than never. Non film geeks be warned, I’m going in on this one. While his name does not have the crossover appeal of Spielberg or Scorsese, you can’t talk about Hollywood filmmaking without talking about this man. A brief rundown for the uninitiated…
- 12 Angry Men – Has to be in the debate for one of the best directorial debuts ever. I believe I was in high school (possibly middle school even) when I was first shown this film, about a jury deliberating over the guilt or innocence of a kid on trial. The majority of the film takes place in a jury room, and as television has given us even more access to the workings of our justice system, 12 Angry Men (in my opinion anyway) is probably even better now than it was when it was first made. And this was his first film. Damn.
- Serpico – Much like ‘On the Waterfront’, the rare film where you completely sympathize with the ‘snitch’ (and yes I understand the snitches in these films were played by Brando and Pacino respectively). Based on the true story of a NYPD officer who ratted out his coworkers’ corruption (and dealt with the repercussions of that), it’s a fantastic piece of 70s cinema.
- Dog Day Afternoon – By leaps and bounds my favorite non-Corleone role by Pacino, and also number one of my list of ‘I Could See Hollywood Trying to Remake This, and I’ll Have Me a Good Cussing Fit That Day’ Movies. Also based on real events, a down on his luck guy and his buddy decide to hold up a bank, and literally from the moment they say ‘This is a Stick Up!”, their day and their plan gets worse and worse and worse. One of the first DVDs I ever bought.
- Network – Even if you’ve never seen this film, odds are you’re familiar with the phrase, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” Well if you didn’t know, it came from this film. Some people say this film in its own way predicted the genre we all call ‘reality TV’. I don’t know about all that, but when you get Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway in their peaks, and a Hall of Fame catchphrase and performance by Peter Finch, you’ve got one hell of a movie.
- The Wiz – I’ve caught slack from some of you for not holding this film to the same standard as the films above. As compensation for this slight, I offer the next time we go to karaoke, I’ll perform this (complete with highwaters, glitter vest and matching bow tie…)
That said, IREFUSE to call the Wiz a cinematic classic. BUT. BUT…not only was this the film debut of my Idol, but it was during the making of this film that he met the cat playing piano in the clip above (a musical genius by the name of Quincy Jones). They decided to make a couple albums together. I think you know the rest…
I’ll start to wrap it up, even though I haven’t even mentioned ‘The Verdict” (a great film and for many people’s favorite performance of Paul Newman). And while there’s no way to document this, he’s widely credited as being the one who suggested that in the Pacino remake of Scarface, they make Tony Montana and company Cuban immigrants. (Wow.) That, my friends, is a first ballot Hall of Fame Hollywood career.
So rest in peace, Sidney Lumet. You won’t bump Liz from the final spot in next year’s In Memoriam segment of the Oscars, but I’ll be damned if you’re not second.