New York City lost its lover this morning. Sidney Lumet, who happened to be born in Philadelphia but adored his adopted city immoderately, immortalizing it in 12 Angry Men, Bye, Bye Braverman, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Q & A, passed away this morning at the age of 86. (You can read my obituary on philly.com once it gets edited.)
Lumet, who resembled a cross between an owl and a leprechaun, was acclaimed for many things. Making serious-minded movies that explored the injustices of the justice system. Eliciting an actor's best performance. Working with such lightning speed that Paul Newman (who starred in Lumet's The Verdict) cracked that "Sidney's the only man who would double-park in front of a whorehouse."
He is not acclaimed for his comedies. But after you see the great Lumet dramas (my favorites are 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead), don't forget he made the subversive comedy Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), starring Alan King as a Ray Stark-like media baron and Ali McGraw as his mistress. Every time I watch it I laugh till my ribs ache. For a director who loved New York, warts, carbuncles and all, this movie shows a city just emerging from the caterpillar ignominy of financial ruin to the butterfly beauty of the go-go 1980s. The comedy in the fight scene between McGraw and King is wonderfully choreographed. As McGraw once said:" Two-three-kick, four-five-six-slap, seven-eight-nine-raincoat — it was as specific as a dance sequence."
Bye, Bye, Mr. Lumet. And tell me what your favorite Lumet movies are.