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Private Screenings: Sidney Lumet

Private Screenings: Sidney Lumet(2005)


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Sidney Lumet, who earlier in 2005 received a special lifetime achievement Academy Award for his sterling body of work, will join network host Robert Osborne for his edition of the Turner Classic Movies' Private Screenings interview series - PRIVATE SCREENINGS: SIDNEY LUMET.

Lumet was born in 1924, the son of two veteran players from the Yiddish stage. He made his radio debut at the age of 4 and stage debut at the Yiddish Art Theatre the following year. As a child, he appeared in several Broadway shows, including Dead End.

During World War II, Lumet served as a radar repairman in India and Burma. Upon his return from service, he formed an off-Broadway theater company, directed summer stock and taught acting at the High School of Professional Arts.In 1950, Lumet began working at CBS, where he quickly earned a reputation as one of the industry's most gifted directors during television's fabled golden age. Lumet provided stunning moments of live television for such programs as You Are There, Omnibus, Best of Broadway, Alcoa Theater and Goodyear Playhouse, to name a few.

On the strength of his television and theatrical success, Lumet was tapped to direct 12 Angry Men, starring and produced by Henry Fonda. "I didn't have to audition for it," recalls Lumet. "I didn't have to talk to anybody for it. It just fell into my lap." The movie, shot in 19 days on a budget of less than $350,000, went on to earn Oscar® nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.

For his second movie, Lumet again teamed with Fonda, this time in Stage Struck, a remake of the classic Morning Glory. "It was really my valentine to the theater," says Lumet. Lumet returned to his theater roots once again when he directed the film version of Eugene O'Neill's play Long Day's Journey Into Night, starring Katharine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson. For this production, Lumet wanted only Hepburn to play the lead role. "It's got to be her," he recalls telling producer Eli Landau at the time. "It's about a giant tree falling, and I need a giant to play that."

Never one to shy from difficult subject matter, Lumet next tackled the Cold War and the threat of a nuclear attack in Fail-Safe, once again teaming with Fonda. He followed that up with The Pawnbroker, in which Rod Steiger plays a Holocaust survivor facing the horrors of his past while living in Harlem.

In 1965, Lumet gave Sean Connery his first chance to break out of his James Bond persona. In The Hill, Connery played a rebellious inmate at a tough British military prison. "It was as physically daunting a movie as I've ever tried," Lumet recalls of the film, which was shot in sweltering heat on the coast of Spain. "You've got this sea breeze coming up off the Mediterranean, so as you're pouring buckets of sweat, it's being dried off you immediately. It's evaporating, so there's no water left in your body. And those guys went up the hill again and again. It was a killer."

It would be several years after The Hill before Lumet would again strike critical gold, but he did so in a big way when he cast the fiery young actor Al Pacino in the undercover police drama Serpico. He continued that success with the all-star Agatha Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express before re-teaming with Pacino for the serio-comic Dog Day Afternoon.

In 1976, Lumet's star hit new heights with Network, featuring a biting, satiric screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky that Lumet calls "Full blown from the head of Zeus. It's one of the few scripts that I didn't change from what I originally read." This harsh look at the commercialization of a television newscast features bravura performances from Oscar® winners Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight. It also contains one of the most quoted movie lines of the decade: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"During the 30 years since scoring such a huge triumph with Network, Lumet has continued to direct a wide range of movies, from the musical The Wiz to the gripping courtroom drama The Verdict, often shooting in his favorite city, New York. He received a special Academy Award for lifetime achievement at this year's ceremony, highlighting a career that has earned five Oscar® nominations, seven Directors Guild of America nominations, six Golden Globe nominations and several critics awards. He recently directed Find Me Guilty (2006), a drama based on the longest Mafia trial in U.S. history.

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