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The Instant Expert's Guide to Sidney Lumet

All mentioned films in article
Not released
Not released

Sixty-five years have passed since Sidney Lumet made his feature debut with the courtroom classic 12 Angry Men (1957). He went on to rack up 42 more films and countless hours of television during a career that hasn't always been appreciated. Cinema Paradiso seeks to right the record.

Critics didn't know what to make of Sidney Lumet. He was a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, he made serious dramas exposing bigotry, injustice and corruption. But he also relished making movies and was eager to try his hand at different genres. However, this defiantly unpretentious attitude gave the critics the chance to dismiss Lumet as an artisan rather than an auteur.

Admittedly, he didn't have a signature style. Indeed, he once justified his reason for making style subservient to his material by claiming 'it's bad style if people spot it'. Yet, the vein of moral decency that runs through Lumet's films makes them instantly recognisable, as he focusses on flawed characters in order to hold up a mirror to American society in the hope that it could discern its failings and eradicate them.

While they often simmered with righteous rage, Lumet's slices of social realism also bristled with life, as he kept his visuals as simple as his storytelling so that the audience only noticed his casts and locales. Consequently, he became one of the screen's great chroniclers of New York, while 17 performers received Oscar nominations for their work in his films.

The Yiddish Child Star

Sidney Arthur Lumet was born in Philadelphia on 25 June 1924. However, he spent his childhood in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, appearing on the radio at the age of four with his Warsaw-born father Baruch Lumet, who wrote, acted in, directed and produced plays for the Yiddish Art Theatre. A former dancer, mother Eugenia Wermus was also on the stage and the young Sidney co-starred with his parents in the Yiddish radio serial, The Rabbi From Brownville (1931-32), for which they received the combined weekly salary of $35.

A still from Dead End (1937)
A still from Dead End (1937)

Eugenia died when Sidney was still a boy and he and sister Feiga were raised by their father. But he continued to act and made his Broadway debut in Sidney Kingsley's Dead End (1935), which was filmed four years later, with Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea and Humphrey Bogart. Having appeared in Kurt Weill's musical, The Eternal Road (1937), Lumet took roles in five more plays before being cast as the young Jesus in Maxwell Anderson's Journey to Jerusalem (1940), which was filmed on 16mm the following year.

Having made his screen debut at the age of 11 in Henry Lynn's short, Papirossen (1935), Lumet reunited with Sylvia Sidney to play Joey Rogers in Dudley Murphy's One Third of a Nation... (1939), a Depression drama that took its title from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's lament about the number of homeless people in the United States. Growing up in the midst of poverty and despair left a deep impression on Lumet, whose later films often centred on injustice and graft. Moreover, it also convinced him that he needed to work in authentic settings, hence his later claim: 'New York is filled with reality; Hollywood is a fantasyland.'

Attending art classes while studying at the Professional Children's School of New York, Lumet enrolled at Columbia University to study Dramatic Literature. After one term, however, the 17 year-old dropped out to enlist in the Army Signal Corps, in which he served for four years as a radar mechanic in India, China and Burma. On returning to civvy street, Lumet's fascination with physics led to him teaching at the Philco radar laboratory in Philadelphia. It wasn't long, however, before he was lured back to the stage.

The Man Off the Telly

In 1946, Lumet took over Marlon Brando's role of a Holocaust survivor named David in Ben Hecht's play, A Flag Is Born. Two years later, he was cast in Arthur Goodman's experimental play, Seeds in the Wind. Then, in his own words, 'I got shy,' and stopped acting in order to concentrate on running an off-Broadway theatre group and working in summer stock. Lumet also became part of the first intake at Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio and taught classes of his own at the High School of Performing Arts.

Having married actress Rita Gam, however, Lumet needed a steadier income and accepted friend Yul Brynner's invitation to become his assistant. This led to him becoming an assistant director at the CBS television station, where he was quickly given the chance to make the first of 14 half-hour episodes of the thriller series, Danger (1950-55). Still in his twenties, Lumet amassed further credits on Mama (1949-57) and Walter Cronkite's historical re-enactment show, You Are There (1953-57). Aware that 'in live TV there was no second take, or 22nd take', Lumet learned the value of thoroughly rehearsing his actors and making innovative use of dual cameras to maintain the pace of dialogue passages by inter-cutting between reverse angles.

He later suggested 'it would take 20 films to acquire what I learned from on-the-spot television' and the same went for such emerging directorial talents as Robert Mulligan, John Frankenheimer, Martin Ritt, George Roy Hill, Franklin J. Schaffner and Delbert Mann. The latter struck gold when he was invited to bring his 1953 Philco Television Playhouse production of Paddy Chayefsky's Marty to the big screen. Not only did the 1955 feature take top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but it also won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Mann, Chayefsky and star Ernest Borgnine also snagged Oscars to inspire Lumet, who was now bringing his distinctive blend of fast shooting and fluid camerawork to single dramas for franchises like Studio One, Playhouse 90, Kraft Television Theatre and The Best of Broadway. Among his more prestigious assignments were the small-screen versions of George Cukor's The Philadelphia Story (1940) and Robert Rossen's All the King's Men (1949), while he also tackled a number of Tennessee Williams plays. He even found time to return to the theatre for productions of George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma (1955) and Arch Oboler's Night of the Auk (1956).

A still from 12 Angry Men (1957)
A still from 12 Angry Men (1957)

Such was Lumet's bond with the stage that almost half of his features were adapted from plays. But his big break came with a big-screen version of a 1954 TV drama that had been directed by Franklin Schaffner. Henry Fonda had been so taken by Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men that he had bought the rights and entrusted the project to Lumet after seeing him give an acting class. Set in a jury room, as #8 (Fonda) seeks to convince his fellow jurors of the innocence of an impoverished youth facing the death penalty for murder, 12 Angry Men (1957) was made in 19 days for just $343,000, following a fortnight of intense rehearsals.

Abetted by the angles created by cinematographer Boris Kaufman, Lumet was able to use the confined space to ratchet up the tension, as the meaning of the phrase 'beyond a reasonable doubt' starts to resonate with the stubborn all-male jury. He was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Director on debut, while the picture took the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Newly married to heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, Lumet seemed to have cracked it. But a reunion with Fonda on Stage Struck (1958) proved less successful than George Cukor's 1933 take on Zoe Akins's play, Morning Glory, which had earned Katharine Hepburn the first of her four Oscars for Best Actress.

Neither Stage Struck nor Lumet's collaboration with Sophia Loren on That Kind of Woman (1959) is currently available on disc in this country. But Cinema Paradiso users can appreciate Lumet's direction of Marlon Brando in The Fugitive Kind (1959), a reworking of Tennessee Williams's Orpheus Descending that sees Brando's guitar-strumming drifter attract the attention of housewife Maureen Stapleton and lush Joanne Woodward when he takes a job at Anna Magnani's small-town store.

Away from the cinema, Lumet was lauded for his stage version of Albert Camus's Caligula and his Emmy-winning tele-adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh (both 1960). The same year also saw Lumet commended for both the semi-documentary true crime saga, The Sacco and Vanzetti Story, and a bold take on Akira Kurosawa's 1950 masterpiece, Rashomon.

Always happy to respect the writer's work, Lumet insisted on his actors sticking to the script. But he struggled to impose himself on the 1962 Franco-Italian adaptation of Arthur Miller's psychological study of illegal immigration, A View From the Bridge. However, he landed the Directors Guild Award for his interpretation of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night (also 1962), a harrowing insight into the dysfunctional misery endured in 1912 Connecticut by the Tyrone family. Katharine Hepburn won the Best Actress prize at Cannes, where co-stars Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards and Dean Stockwell shared the Best Actor award.

Mr Inconsistency

In 1963, Lumet married Gail Jones, the daughter of singer Lena Horne, and would twice become a father during a decade in which he sometimes seemed to struggle to adapt to the changing times in both American society and cinema. He appeared attuned to the nation's paranoia following the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy when he signed up for Walter Bernstein and Peter George's adaptation of Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler's bestseller, Fail-Safe. Ironically, this sombre, but unsettling film was overshadowed by a reworking of George's own novel, Red Alert, which satirised the Cold War situation as Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (both 1964).

Henry Fonda excels as the unnamed president desperately striving to abort a nuclear strike after an off-course airliner triggers a false warning. But the savagery of Peter Sellers's performance as President Merkin Muffley caught the popular imagination. In 2000, however, Richard Dreyfus and George Clooney contributed solid displays as the president and the rogue pilot to Stephen Frears's Fail Safe, which was broadcast live on American television in homage to Lumet's roots.

A still from The Pawnbroker (1965)
A still from The Pawnbroker (1965)

While Fonda was overlooked during awards season, Rod Steiger added a BAFTA and a Berlin festival accolade to the Oscar and Golden Globe nominations he received for his powerful performance as Sol Nazerman in The Pawnbroker (1964). Stanley Kubrick, Karel Reisz and Franco Zeffirelli were all approached prior to Lumet for this adaptation of Edward Lewis Wallant's novel about a Holocaust survivor trying to make a living in a Harlem pawn shop protected by gay gangster, Rodriguez (Brock Peters). The first American feature to present the death camps from a survivor's perspective, the film caused controversy when it became the first to show bare breasts and receive a Production Code certificate of approval.

Sharing the theme of guilt with Fail-Safe, this monochrome drama bears the influence of the nouvelle vague and ranks among Lumet's finest achievements. He followed it with another, but The Hill (1965) isn't currently available to rent, even though this stark reworking of a Ray Rigby play about five prisoners in a British Army glasshouse in Second World War Libya marked the first of Lumet's five collaborations with Sean Connery.

Cinema Paradiso does have access to Lumet's next outing, The Group (1966), an adaptation of a Mary McCarthy novel that saw him direct an all-star female ensemble for the first and only time. Candice Bergen, Joan Hackett, Elizabeth Hartman, Shirley Knight, Jessica Walter, Mary-Robin Redd, Kathleen Widdoes and Joanna Pettet play the classmates from South Tower who come together in 1940 after a decade of dispersal and dashed hopes.

Discussing topics that were still considered taboo by America's cine-guardians, this may have been set during the Depression, but it reflected the seismic social shifts of the 1960s and is overdue reappraisal. As is A Deadly Affair (1967), Lumet's take on the John Le Carré spy novel, Call For the Dead. James Mason is splendidly lugubrious as Charles Dobbs (the studio wasn't allowed to use the name George Smiley), the MI5 agent who believes that concentration camp survivor Elsa Fennan (Simone Signoret) knows more than she is saying about the suicide of her diplomat husband.

Working with cinematographer Freddie Young instead of Boris Kaufman (with whom he would reunite for a final time on the overlooked 1968 Jewish comedy, Bye Bye Braverman), Lumet filmed primarily in London and used a light-controlling technique known as 'fogging' to mute the colours in order to reinforce the action's sense of lassitude. Lumet received one of five unconverted BAFTA nominations, but it was the last success he enjoyed as the swinging decade started to lose its momentum.

Consequently, it's not currently possible to see James Mason and Simone Signoret reuniting in a version of Anton Chekhov's The Sea Gull (1968), Omar Sharif and Anouk Aimée experiencing marital difficulties in The Appointment (1969) or James Coburn and Lynn Redgrave marrying on a game show in Last of the Mobile Hot Shots (1970), which Gore Vidal had adapted from Tennessee Williams's rare stage misfire, The Seven Descents of Myrtle. Frustratingly, Lumet's collaboration with Joseph L. Mankiewicz on the archive documentary, King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis (1970) is also off limits. But Cinema Paradiso does have DVD and Blu-ray copies of Funny Girl, the biopic of Fanny Brice that saw William Wyler steer the debuting Barbra Streisand to a share of the Oscar for Best Actress (with Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter, both 1968) after the singer and producer Ray Stark (who was Brice's son-in-law) had him fired during pre-production for 'creative difference' after he had been hand-picked ahead of Mike Nichols, George Roy Hill and Gene Kelly.

A Winning Streak

While Lumet had occasionally seemed out of step during the 1960s, the decade that witnessed the Watergate break-in and the withdrawal from Vietnam played right into his wheelhouse. He started well with a reunion with Sean Connery on The Anderson Tapes (1971), a thriller inspired by a Lawrence Sanders novel that exploited the spread of surveillance cameras and the disconnect between America's different law enforcement agencies. Planned for the Labour Day weekend, the heist on a New York apartment building anticipates many issues that would beset the nation over the next few years.

Despite a fine performance by James Mason as an ageing teacher losing control of his class, Child's Play (1972) proved a disappointment. But Lumet bounced back with The Offence (1973), another collaboration with Connery that reworked John Hopkins's stage play, This Story of Yours. Echoing the previous film's theme of work-related stress, the action follows the efforts of a Home Counties copper to justify the killing of a suspected paedophile. Ian Bannen was nominated for a BAFTA for his performance, while Connery remained grateful to Lumet for helping him shed the image of James Bond.

A still from Serpico (1973) With Al Pacino
A still from Serpico (1973) With Al Pacino

Lumet returned to New York for his next assignment, which also examined the pressures bearing down upon the Thin Blue Line. Al Pacino earned a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for taking the title role in Serpico (1973), a biopic of the whistleblower who had exposed the corruption that was rife within the New York Police Department. Stepping in to replace John G. Avildsen, Lumet used his knowledge of the city to provide an authentic backdrop to a state-of-the-nation allegory that reflected the New Hollywood shift towards tackling serious topics in an adult manner.

There was no danger of Lumet decamping to the West Coast, however. 'In LA,' he told one interviwer, 'there's no streets, no sense of a neighbourhood. I'm a New Yorker. I always like to be in Woody Allen's world.' But Lumet was more interested in the city's darker side and fixed on isolated characters whose foibles and compulsions make them difficult to identify with, even though they are often driven by the best of motives to kick against the system. In highlighting sincerity in the face of decay, duplicity and disillusionment, Lumet sought to goad viewers into examining their own consciences and demanding reform. But, for all the nobility of this approach, it often made Lumet's work seem unduly demanding to those seeking escapist entertainment.

Not that Lumet couldn't produce crowd-pleasers. Following Lovin' Molly, an unjustly neglected version of Larry McMurtry's Leaving Cheyenne that boasts skilled performances from Blythe Danner, Anthony Perkins and Beau Bridges, he scored a sizeable box-office hit with Murder on the Orient Express (both 1974). As Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot, Albert Finney led the all-star ensemble in this slick adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's most ingenious whodunits, which earned Ingrid Bergman her third Oscar. As actor and director, Kenneth Branagh revisited the story in 2017, Cinema Paradiso users can compare the two versions in high-quality DVD and Blu-ray, while the remake is also available in crystal clear 4K.

Having once again demonstrated his affinity for actors, Lumet coaxed a remarkable performance out of Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. Adapted by Frank Pierson from P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore's fact-based book, The Boys in the Bank, this bleakly comic post-noir heist follows the efforts of Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) to hold-up a Brooklyn bank in order to pay for a sex-change operation for his partner, Leon Shermer (Chris Sarandon). The pair were nominated for Oscars, as was Lumet. But only Pierson prevailed as the film came up against Miloš Forman's all-conquering One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (both 1975).

Lumet lost out to John G. Avilden's Rocky in the Best Picture and Director stakes for Network (both 1976), a blistering media satire that reunited him with screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. Peter Finch became the first actor to win a posthumous Oscar for his potent performance as Howard Beale, the TV personality who goes into meltdown because he's 'mad as hell and not going to take it anymore'. Finch's victory, along with those of Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight, equalled a record set by Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter for Elia Kazan's adaptation of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).

The film was released just two years after the on-air suicide of news anchor Christine Chubbuck, who was compellingly played by Kate Lyn Sheil and Rebecca Hall in Robert Greene's Kate Plays Christine and Antonio Campos's Christine (both 2016). Finch's sad achievement has since been matched by Heath Ledger, who won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as The Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008).

New York State of Mind

As Peter Shaffer had already won the Tony and the Drama Desk awards for his long-running 1973 play, expectations were high for Lumet's adaptation of Equus (1977). Yet, in spite of the casting of Richard Burton and Peter Firth as the psychiatrist and the youth who has blinded six horses, the well-reviewed screen version failed to reach sufficient numbers intrigued by Freudian analysis.

A still from The Wizard of Oz (1939) With Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Jack Haley And Bert Lahr
A still from The Wizard of Oz (1939) With Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Jack Haley And Bert Lahr

If this was a misfortune, Lumet's decision to take on Charlie Smalls and William F. Brown's Broadway musical, The Wiz (1978), feels positively misguided. He inherited the Motown-sponsored project after John Badham had resigned over producer Rob Cohen's casting of the 33 year-old Diana Ross as the schoolteacher who finds her way into Oz, instead of stage Dorothy, Stephanie Mills. Joel Schumacher reworked the scenario, while Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson added new songs to the libretto penned by Smalls and Luther Vandross. But not even Quincy Jones's musical supervision could banish memories of Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz (1939). Ross wasn't alone in misfiring, however, as Michael Jackson's Scarecrow and Richard Pryor's Wiz similarly failed to click.

Lumet explained that he had 'wanted to do a picture in which New York City itself became unreal'. But the picture was accused of stereotyping and Lumet took a two-year sabbatical to recover from the critical mauling. Despite positive notices, he also struck out with Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), Jay Presson Allen's chronicle of the battle of wits between corporate vulgarian Alan King and his TV producer mistress, Ali MacGraw. Now married to Mary Bailey Gimbel, Lumet was next accused of retreading old ground by starring Treat Williams in Prince of the City (1981), another reflection on the Knapp Commission into NYPD corruption that sees a detective become increasingly isolated after testifying against 52 fellow officers.

Reuniting with Jay Presson Allen, Lumet reworked Ira Levin's stage hit, Deathtrap (1982), as a vehicle for Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve. However, critics were quick to point out the similarities to Caine's Oscar-nominated collaboration with Laurence Olivier on Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth (1972) and the picture's fate was sealed when Dyan Cannon was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for her performance as the wife trying to dissuade struggling playwright Caine from murdering student Reeve in order to steal his brilliant manuscript.

Lumet had more luck in returning to the courtroom for The Verdict (1982), which was adapted from a book by Barry Reed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, David Mamet. Writer and director would receive Oscar nominations, as would Paul Newman and James Mason, as the lawyers clashing over a medical malpractice case. Newman particularly enjoyed playing an alcoholic in the last chance saloon and gave Lumet the nickname 'Speedy Gonzales' on account of his habit of shooting scenes in one or two takes.

Unable to raise the funding to adapt Nikos Kazantzakis's novel, The Last Temptation of Christ (which was eventually filmed by Martin Scorsese in 1988), Lumet turned to E.L. Doctorow's The Book of Daniel. Inspired by the 1953 trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as Soviet spies, Daniel (1983) centres on the efforts of the son of Paul and Rochelle Isaacson (Mandy Patinkin and Lindsay Crouse) to discover whether they were guilty or merely Red Scare scapegoats. Timothy Hutton takes the title role in this provocative, yet undervalued insight into American insecurity. 'Despite its critical and financial failure,' Lumet later revealed, 'I think it is one of the best pictures I've ever done.'

He also had a soft spot for Garbo Talks (1984), which took its title from the tagline for Greta Garbo's first talking picture, Clarence Brown's adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie (1930). Anne Bancroft earned a Golden Globe nomination for her touching performance as the dying New Yorker who asks son Ron Silver to fulfil her final wish of meeting the famously reclusive Swedish film star. Acclaimed writer Betty Comden cameo's as Garbo, while New York takes one of its more nostalgic supporting roles in Lumet's oeuvre.

The presence of Richard Gere and Julie Christie and Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges hasn't been enough to secure UK disc releases for Power and The Morning After (both 1986), which respectively focus on a corrupt senatorial campaign and an alcoholic actress's bid to clear her name of murder. Fonda earned an Oscar nomination for her performance, while River Phoenix was cited in the Best Supporting Actor category for his work in Running on Empty (1988). He would also be recognised at the Golden Globes, as was Lumet and Christine Lahti, as the mother who is permanently on the run with husband Emile Hirsch as a result of their role in the death of a nightwatchman during the anti-war fire-bombing of a napalm factory during the 1970s.

While this intelligent drama was warmly received, the welcome for the crime comedy, Family Business (1989), was much cooler, despite being headlined by Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman and Matthew Broderick. Adapted by Vincent Patrick from his own novel, the story of three generations of an Irish-Sicilian clan on a last caper was undermined by the fact there was only a seven-year gap between Connery and Hoffman playing father and son. The age issue would recur when Connery essayed Harrison Ford's father (with a 12-year difference) in Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

A still from Back to the Future (1985) With Michael J. Fox And Claudia Wells
A still from Back to the Future (1985) With Michael J. Fox And Claudia Wells

Among the other notable parent-child discrepancies are Jessie Royce Landis and Cary Grant (eight years) in Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959); Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross in Mike Nichols's The Graduate (1967); Sally Field and Tom Hanks (both nine years) in Robert Zemeckis's Forrest Gump (1994); Crispin Glover and Michael J. Fox (three years) in Zemeckis's Back to the Future (1985); and Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell (one year) in Oliver Stone's Alexander (2004). However, nothing can top that fact that Laurence Olivier was 11 years older than Eileen Herlie when he directed them both in the Best Picture-winning adaptation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet (1948).

A Rebel to the Last

Lumet always helped refine his screenplays during rehearsals. But he received his first solo writing credit in adapting Judge Edward Torres's novel, Q&A (1990). Once again, he had the justice system in his crosshairs, as rookie lawyer Timothy Hutton is ordered to investigate the claim by decorated NYPD detective Nick Nolte that he shot a Puerto Rican crook in self-defence. As the son of a cop killed in the line of duty, Hutton wants to be loyal to the force. But Nolte's ties to organised crime are hard to explain away.

The reviews were respectful rather than enthusiastic. But they were positively hostile towards A Stranger Among Us (1992), which earned Melanie Griffith the Razzie for Worst Actress for her performance as a cop going undercover in a Hasidic community. Frustratingly, the notices were scarcely better when Lumet teamed with Griffith's husband, Don Johnson, on Guilty As Sin (1993), another legal thriller that has a debonair lothario convince rising lawyer Rebecca De Mornay to defend him on a charge of murdering his wife. Yet, despite the brickbats, Lumet was presented with the D.W. Griffith Award by the Directors Guild of America.

Following a three-year break - during which time he published his memoir, Making Movies (1995) - Lumet returned to a familiar theme with Night Falls on Manhattan (1996), which he based on Robert Daley's novel, Tainted Evidence. Andy Garcia stars as the cop-turned-lawyer who is tasked with prosecuting Shiek Mahmud-Bay for killing NYPD officers James Gandolfini and Ian Holm, the latter of whom was Garcia's father. Family ties also complicate matters in Critical Care (1997), a satire drawn from a novel by Richard Dooling about the medical profession's relationship with the insurance industry. As sisters Kyra Sedgwick and Margo Martindale argue over whether to switch off their father's life support machine, third-year intern James Spader gets a crash course in ethics from boss Albert Brooks, ward sister Helen Mirren and nun Anne Bancroft.

If this interesting drama rather slipped under the radar, Lumet's decision to star Sharon Stone in a 1999 remake of John Cassavetes's Gloria (1980) brought little but opprobrium. Following in the footsteps of Gena Rowlands was a huge challenge, but Stone acquits herself admirably as the ex-jailbird who finds herself sheltering the son of a murdered accountant who had amassed some damning evidence against treacherous lover Jeremy Northam's gang.

Lumet was in his late seventies when he made an unexpected return to television with 100 Centre Street (2000-02) and Strip Search (2004), while waiting for a worthwhile feature project. During this hiatus, he received an Honorary Academy Award and, when New York Times critic Manohla Dargis described the 2005 bequest as a 'consolation prize for a lifetime of neglect', Lumet couldn't resist joking about his five near misses, 'it seems to me that I've always lost to crap'.

A still from Find Me Guilty (2006)
A still from Find Me Guilty (2006)

Inspired by the longest Mafia trial in US legal history, Find Me Guilty (2006) turns around a bravura performance by Vin Diesel as Jackie DiNorscio, who insists on defending himself when he and 19 other foot soldiers are charged with federal racketeering. With defence counsel Peter Dinklage offering unofficial advice in Ron Silver's courtroom, this involving satire used the official court record to examine both the mobster mindset and the kinks in the system.

The reviews were largely positive, but Lumet had one last ace up his sleeve. Once again set in New York, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) follows the efforts of brothers Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke to rob the jewellery shop owned by their parents, Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris so that Hoffman can flit to Brazil before he's charged with embezzlement. However, the meticulously planned heist goes wrong and Finney vows to discover who was responsible for his wife's death. As the last of Lumet's anti-heroic little men out of their depth, Hawke and Hoffman are superb and it's a shame that Lumet never got round to making Getting Out, in which an inmate's escape plan is complicated by the prison psychiatrist and the lover waiting for him on the outside.

Instead, he encouraged daughter Jenny with her screenplay for Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married (2008). She would go on to work on Alex Kurtzman's The Mummy (2017) and Star Trek: Discovery (2017-). As for Lumet, he died on 9 April 2011. When asked how he would like to go, he replied: 'I don't think about it. I'm not religious. I do know that I don't want to take up any space. Burn me up and scatter my ashes over Katz's Delicatessen.

A still from The Mummy (2017)
A still from The Mummy (2017)
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