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Sidney Lumet: Last of the Great Movie Moralists


Sidney Lumet, a celebrated filmmaker who guided many of the world’s most famous actors to roles that connected with the conscious of multiple generations, died Saturday in New York.

“Social issues set [Sidney Lumet’s] own mental juices flowing, and his best films not only probed the consequences of prejudice, corruption and betrayal, but also celebrated individual acts of courage.”

~ Robert Berkvist
New York Times


Sidney Lumet
Sidney Lumet in 1973 on the set of Serpico.

Sidney Lumet, the Academy Award winning director who rose from an early career as a child actor in Yiddish theatre to become a celebrated filmmaker who gently guided many of the world’s most respected actors through roles that connected with the conscious of multiple generations, died Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 86.

“I don’t know what my life is about and don’t examine it. My life will define itself as I live it. The movies will define themselves as I make them. As long as the theme is something I care about at that moment, it’s enough for me to start work. Maybe work itself is what my life is about,” Sidney Lumet wrote in his 1996 memoir, Making Movies.

In more than 40 films during his career, Sidney Lumet captured enduring performances from Henry Fonda, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, Al Pacino, Rod Steiger, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Alan Arkin, Nick Nolte and many other leading actors.

Sidney-Lumet Oscar
Sidney Lumet on winning an honorary Oscar: “I wanted one, damn it, and I felt I deserved one.”

“I’ve been accused of being all over the place, of lacking an overwhelming theme that applies to all my work,” Sidney Lumet wrote in Making Movies. “I don’t know if that’s true or not. The reason I don’t know is that when I open to the first page of a script, I’m a willing captive. I have no preconceived notion that I want the body of my work to be about one particular idea. No script has to fit into an overall theme of my life … Whatever I am, whatever the work will amount to, has to come out of my subconscious. I can’t approach it cerebrally. Obviously, this is right and correct for me. Each person must approach the problem in whatever way works best for him.”

Sidney Lumet’s most influential films include 12 Angry Men, Network, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, The Pawnbroker, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Verdict. Al Pacino was nominated for the Academy Award for his performances in both Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. In 1976, actor Peter Finch won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Howard Beale in Network.

The script for Sidney Lumet’s own life, the one he directed every day, was written 2,000 years before his birth by the historic sage, Rabbi Hillel.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Sidney Lumet, June 25, 1925 – April 9, 2011.

Rest in Peace.

Seth Eisenberg is President/CEO of PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.

4 thoughts on “Sidney Lumet: Last of the Great Movie Moralists
  1. Fabulous sequence. That was a Casriel yell, developed in his groups.

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