In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sidney Lumet

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Lumet’s Talks and Writings
  • Lumet’s Interviews
  • Book-Length Critical Studies
  • Biography
  • Book Chapters
  • Critical Articles
  • Documentary Sources

Cinema and Media Studies Sidney Lumet
Joanna E. Rapf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0283


Sidney Lumet (b. 1924–d. 2011) was adamantly anti-auteurist, always emphasizing the collaborative nature of making movies (he avoided the words “film” and “cinema” as pretentious). He was that rare director who refused the possessory credit, “a film by . . .” which may be the reason he lacks the name recognition of a Spielberg, Scorsese, or Coppola. However, his movies are among the classics of the second half of the twentieth century, including his first feature, the courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men. Lumet explores such diverse topics as the story of a holocaust survivor in The Pawnbroker; corruption in the New York police department in Serpico, and Prince of the City. Others include a thwarted bank robbery by a bisexual Vietnam veteran in Dog Day Afternoon; the power of television in the prescient Network; and medical malpractice and the Catholic Church in The Verdict. He made over forty features and was nominated by the Motion Picture Academy for Best Director four times and once for screenwriting. In 2005, he finally received a long overdue Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. He began his career as a child actor in New York, the son of Baruch Lumet, a well-known Yiddish actor. His Broadway debut was in Sidney Kingsley’s Dead End in 1935, and he continued to perform regularly on and off Broadway as a child. Again portraying a slum kid, he starred in the film One Third of a Nation, directed by Dudley Murphy in 1939. Perhaps because of his own acting experience, actors loved working with him and appreciated his sensitivity to their needs. In 1941, he joined the Army Signal Corps. After World War II, he founded an off-Broadway acting group and began directing. However, it was the so-called Golden Age of television that really gave him his start as a director, and he credits those television years with teaching him how to shoot quickly and efficiently, how to edit in the camera, and how to use lenses to help tell a story. Besides his skill as a technician, Lumet also brought to his early television projects his humanity and ongoing concern for social justice. He was fascinated by the human cost involved in following passions and commitments, as well as the cost those passions and commitments inflict on others. This concern is at the core of most of his movies, exploring the complexities of human behavior. Human Rights First, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in New York City and Washington, has honored the humanitarian impact of his career by creating the “Sidney Lumet Award for Integrity in Entertainment” to pay tribute to works of popular culture that advance understanding of pressing human rights issues.

Reference Works

Because the only basic reference book on Lumet, Bowles 1979, is dated, the best resources currently are probably the Turner Classic Movies website or Malone 2020 (cited under Book-Length Critical Studies).

  • Bowles, Stephen E. Sidney Lumet: A Guide to References and Resources. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979.

    A valuable research tool, although the latest entry is Equus (1977). Includes Lumet’s biographical background and a critical survey of his work, suggesting that Lumet was an “underrated director.” Also includes a filmography with synopses, credits, and notes; an annotated guide to writings about the director; a list of his performances and writings; and reviews of his movies. The annotated writings listed in this book are not repeated here.

  • Turner Classic Movies.

    Probably the most up-to-date resource for basic information about Lumet and his work.

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