12 Angry Men

Two points, as one juror says, are scored more or less backhandedly. The screenplay explicitly demonstrates the great gulf fixed between reasonable doubt and plausible suspicion, with all the attendant difficulties between. The filming shows, among other things, that if Columbo’s birthplace is Clouzot’s Quai des Orfèvres, then certainly Matlock has his roots here (and in one episode returns to them as a juror himself).

Dramatically the case is resolved by, among other things, Shakespearean stagecraft ablating the avenger to reconcile fathers and sons.

Prof. Sarris’s charge of humorlessness is dispelled at once by Reginald Rose’s script and Lumet’s witty direction.


That Kind of Woman

Wiser than thou, with Old World sophistication, a nabob’s mistress.

The Miami-to-New York train, a brief stay there (Grand Central, Central Park, “a well-known restaurant”), the train to Vermont.

A GI paratrooper on leave takes her measure.

The time is just before and during the Normandy invasion.

Lumet’s technique is of the finest, with acting to suit the screenplay’s revelations of character.

They could not be followed by Bosley Crowther in a kind of mental cramp at the New York Times.

Halliwell compares it to Potter’s or Wallace’s Shopworn Angel, John Sturges’ Never So Few has a similar theme, for example, and so in a way does Resnais’ L’Année dernière à Marienbad.


The Fugitive Kind

It is, alas, the fate of Orpheus to lose his Eurydice and, having disdained the Bacchantes, to shed his skin for them.

And so you have, with the King of Hell, Williams’ panoply.

Critics have always had a low opinion of this film, with the notable exception of Bosley Crowther (New York Times), “this piercing account of loneliness and disappointment in a crass and tyrannical world.”

The opposite view is to be found in Halliwell’s Film Guide, “doom-laden melodrama.”


a view from the bridge

The rare impression of a vertical structure imposed on the conscientious lateral elements of Brooklyn and the docks goes right to the fop and the longshoreman, with consequences for Schlesinger (Sunday Bloody Sunday) and Hutton (X Y and Zee), Miller is for the thing as it stands, a simple confrontation dressed with opulent richness by Lumet on location.


Long Day’s Journey into Night

The Iceman Cometh (dir. John Frankenheimer) imagines an end of the occasion, let us say, and this play disperses the art so that only Shakespeare remains. That gives you the absurd situation and its comic overtones.

Crowther put forth that Richardson and Robards were good, Hepburn and Stockwell not, etc.


The Pawnbroker

The film is closely related to a view from the bridge in its technique, in its influence, and in its getting down to essential cases on the bedrock of a perduring joke. This one was formulated by Shaw, the celebrated comparison of Jews and Gentiles in the matter of a bargain. Here is the heartless pawnbroker with no eye for anything but hard cash, not the Wandering Jew as Crowther thought but the Jew per se, and he explains himself throughout the film. The world is so much dross, his domain is square dealing, the world corrupts even that, the sacrifice of Jesus as represented is another sorrow and a complicated sort of affront, all this is perhaps difficult to understand but it’s all there in the film.



The dream of a bullfight attended by the dreamer, in his dream he watches the bull die and wakes up fearing the matador.

In the course of the morning, an all-out nuclear war is averted by dropping two twenty-megaton bombs on New York to satisfy the Russians after a bomber flight is accidentally given the go signal to bomb Moscow.

The pilot over New York is the dreamer, his wife is shopping in the city, the President’s wife is there on a visit, the command is from the President. After dropping the payload himself, the pilot jabs himself with his regulation cyanide needle. Dying, he explains to his absent wife that the matador is himself.

This, shorn of thematic reflections, is the frankly surrealistic method employed in Lumet’s famously realistic Cold War thriller. Prof. Groeteschele comes from Hitchcock’s Rope, he is a theoretician who plays at being a bull but is really a matador (his name looks like “grotesquely” but sounds like “go to hell”).

The faulty piece of electronic gear is the same flop as in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A kind of psychological blindness accounts for Col. Cascio’s rhinocerine transformation, his humiliation must be redressed, this is a sub-theme. The other pilot, erroneously over Moscow, early on has occasion to lament the coming change to automated planes, he remembers flying B-17s and B-24s with Irish and Italians and Jews (Lumet’s upbringing).

The military engagement is provoked by a mechanical failure on one side answered by an automatic computer response on the other.


The Hill

This is like one of Tom Stoppard’s jokes (the opening of Jumpers, say), a house of cards built so tantalizingly for two hours that the conclusion is almost ironical.

The comprehensive structure is directly modeled on Kubrick’s Paths of Glory with the express purpose of covering the ground analytically and pointing out the single source of mischief in a rather different situation.

Kubrick has in mind the fall of France and musters his forces to defend the position. Lumet neutralizes this theme in a hysterical outburst on “Queen Victoria’s toy soldiers”, he has another kettle of fish, and where Kubrick has a competent officer bewrayed by the general staff, Lumet has a particular subset of the army undone by a raw subordinate.

The theme is making soldiers, out of Enright’s Gung Ho! and Reed’s The Way Ahead and Jack Webb’s The D.I., looking forward to Altman’s MASH and Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The basis is laid in the opening scenes that begin with a remarkable stunt by the camera crane, leaving no tracks and traversing a barbed-wire fence (cf. Hitchcock’s Rope), followed by an intricate long take as the RSM greets his five new prisoners. The Hill is as tightly composed as Frankenheimer’s The Train, which has led critics and casual observers to find error where none exists. Crowther badly misses the later stage of Ossie Davis’s character, for example, as “implausible”. The one true hero of the piece is the medical officer (Michael Redgrave), who conquers his fear to report Staff Williams (Ian Hendry) to the area commander. The nominal protagonist is “a broken sergeant major” (Sean Connery) in for breaking his Major’s face and disobeying suicidal orders that subsequently killed all his men.

The RSM (Harry Andrews) who effectively runs the punishment camp is an extraordinarily capable non-commissioned officer with a real grasp of his duties and an ability to perform them. Two soldiers caught “away” in Cairo are “doubled out” after serving their time and shake each other’s hand, restored to the ranks. Staff Williams proves himself by drinking the RSM under the cot heroically, and then by brutalizing the prisoners. One of them dies, a rear-echelon desk man, the RSM errs by salvaging his command in a whitewash.

This already lengthy note gives only a few of the details in a much-overlooked film, because the particularity of the analysis it provides and the frankness of the style seem to have made for a difficulty in its reception even though there is nothing obscure about it. The subtlety of its various strands, such as the sergeant major’s joke about a shower-head “for the gas”, is rigorously constructed without a real perspective outside the events, the tragedy works itself into a sort of Fellini quandary addressed in Prova d’orchestra. Against the theme is the notion of breaking men down, the misunderstanding (if there is one) comes from the shock of a different angle on The D.I. that also affects and is answered by Full Metal Jacket.

Lumet follows The Pawnbroker by completely shifting to an essentially British perspective, beyond this in a remote location under difficult conditions he engages in the most brilliant filmmaking as first among equals with his cast and settings, so that in the division of labor it has been hard to see the actual work done in the several parts. Connery has a complex turn reflecting the pivotal structure, Andrews in a leading position carries the whole structure without visible strain except where the character shows it, Davis as a West Indian ranker (with Jack Watson, Roy Kinnear and Alfred Lynch) has the turns of the tragedy to play as a light effervescence, Hendry stands to under his cap as a remote revelation, Redgrave plays the MO as a John Ford character trembling ideally in his boots but realistically marching on, and Ian Bannen from another vantage also reflects the events as Staff Harris, all the while Lumet blazes with Oswald Morris’s camera in the blazing sun (a gas mask over the lens for a POV up the punishment hill with sound of forced breathing seems to have gone right into 2001: A Space Odyssey) and back at Borehamwood, always in exactly the right key with no waste or let, only the action drives the theme in a range of expressive fluctuations that give a subtle, complete account.

The last shot sets a precedent for Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes, Nelson’s Embryo, etc. The tragedy is laid to the hubris of the RSM, although everything in the film is understood completely rather than partially, he boasts of his autonomy under the ineffectual MO and the commandant. Things work easier that way, no doubt, and his twenty-five years on the job count as much for him as against him, in a way (on the other hand, his latter insulting remarks to ranker Davis are to be understood as a DI ploy, only the demoralization caused by Williams effects a breakdown). Truly a difficult film to appreciate at once, yet Crowther and Variety both responded to it bravely.


The Group

There hasn’t been anything like it since Cukor’s The Women, and it has men. This makes for the kaleidoscopic view so baffling to Bosley Crowther, New York Times.

Cukor is the guide, nevertheless, to the Class of ‘33 graduating into 1940. It’s a specific instance of the sex, lesbian cohorts of an art history major, innocent and all that, with political and social and maybe even cultural reverberations of a sort, a comedy.

Halliwell was not alone in admiring the film even without comprehending it, perhaps, he is seconded by Commonweal’s film critic as far as possible.

Lumet takes it to the men in Bye Bye Braverman, the title character for Polly.

Then there is Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussolini.


The Deadly Affair

The critical struggle to comprehend this film never took into account the simple mirror structure whereby the Foreign Office “suicide” and his wife are identical with the intelligence officer investigating the death and his own unfaithful wife (both wives are involved in sordid intrigues with the same man).

The point may be understood as a complete methodology and typology of Communism, from blushing Thirties ardor to postwar social justice and peace to the manipulator and assassin.


Bye Bye Braverman

A masterpiece with a void at its center, the epical tale of would-be literati out to bury the genuine article. This is most satisfying, this is really a feast, and everyone involved savors every mouthful, every whiff of aroma, right down to dessert and the stirrup cup, “a good movie gone wrong” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times) and so forth, get Renata Adler (New York Times), “turns into a pogrom.”


The Sea Gull

Arkadina in yellow glides past Trigorin asleep in their bed as Lumet opens the film with a characteristic flourish.

The mode of the play is literary and artistic. The materfamilias is a renowned actress. Her son is an incipient author. His mistress dreams about the stage. She loves a renowned author. His mistress is the actress.

Her brother owns the estate where the scenes are laid. His steward is an incompetent.

The orchestration is complete, leading voices, middle voices, celli and bassi. The actress is vain, and bestows herself upon a mediocrity, a fellow who writes a great many books. The son writes about Spirit and Matter, and loses his girl, who drops a stillborn child to the author and will become the actress. Author and actress are reunited, the son kills himself.

The essential effect of the middle voices is to fill out the harmony and not to provide counterpoint. The brother is a failure, bullied by his self-serving steward.

The title is a bird shot by the son in a Van Gogh episode, representing himself. The author interprets this as an allegory of the girl, slain out of boredom. He has it stuffed and forgets having done so when it is presented to him in the final act, which takes place two years later. One year is a cycle, three is time passing, two is the timewaster’s interval.

But put it another way. A great author and a great actress, mirroring their younger selves. The boy shoots the bird, the man stuffs it.

The one staring at the protagonist of Le Voyeur.

Lumet brings out the middle voices, the steward’s daughter in love with the young writer, the steward’s wife in love with the doctor, the penurious schoolteacher who marries the steward’s daughter. The steward is a brake on exorbitant tendencies.

The end is a variant, as Canby noted, exhibiting the young writer’s corpse and omitting the doctor’s last line in a virtuosic pan around the card table for reaction shots. Here we have Canby, “Lumet is a not particularly subtle director.”


The Appointment

The woman who is everything and anything, fashion model and high-class prostitute, marries and dies, after that her husband has to make an appointment.

Believe this or not, Variety could not understand it, “a flimsy love story”.

Beautifully filmed in Italy, Antonioni unmentioned in reviews (gratefully), a general line established in critiques such as Halliwell’s, “thin”.

It’s said never to have been released in the United States, for some reason, a great work of art.


The Last of the Mobile Hotshots

Tennessee Williams’ allegory of marriage. A girl (Lynn Redgrave) marries a complete stranger (James Coburn) for the kitchen appliances in a TV show giveaway, and discovers she has a husband (Robert Hooks).

This was difficult enough to grasp on the part of critics that they even wrote the performances were poor, which is a shocking abuse. In particular, Redgrave gives an extraordinarily brilliant and controlled comic rendering that can hardly have been missed by anyone, not seriously.

In fact, Lumet’s film has been generally derided, though Canby in his review also notes several Williams themes, so it isn’t a question of sheer bloody ignorance but of the unusual structure.

The direction is unusual, also, for preserving the play in some aspects, and for its dramatic “chorus” of slow-motion inserts on the running theme.

A lost work, nearly, one that no-one in the profession or out of it seems to have understood, and yet it is as plain as the nose on your face.


The Anderson Tapes

The enigma of Richard Nixon.

The elaborate joke, which was evidently clarified the following year in the Watergate affair, is primo that legit surveillance is worthless with the wrong guy in the seat, secundo that the other kind misses the boat, and tertio that bearing witness is the only efficacious method of dealing with crime.

Roger Greenspun started out well in the New York Times on “professionalism”, then sank into the abyss with “not so very far beneath the reach of art,” and passed out saying this, “Sidney Lumet doesn’t usually make great movies,” in plain contradiction of the facts.


The Offence

The transfer from play to film accords with the idea of a transposition or rather a setting in which the drama is laid as an explicatory text on New Britain, there is none of Jolly Olde to be seen, only several new developments on the American plan, residential and commercial.

Within these precincts, and most specifically the cinder-block walls of a new police station, the freshness of innocence and the burden of guilt are sought out forcibly.


Child’s Play

Publilius Syrus on the Republic, “composition... Caesar.The theme is subsequently clarified as democratic principles in action (Lovin’ Molly) from another angle.

Elaborately built with initial reference to If.... (dir. Lindsay Anderson), modulating through Goodbye, Mr. Chips (dir. Sam Wood or Herbert Ross) to unman, wittering and zigo (dir. John Mackenzie), understood as a dispute among the faculty at a Catholic school for boys.

Vincent Canby of the New York Times could not follow it, “seems just silly.Variety, “a taut and suspenseful drama”. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), “we’re confused.Jay Cocks (TIME), “lame tale”. Tom Milne (Time Out), “atrocious nonsense”. TV Guide, “we’ve seen it all before.Halliwell’s Film Guide, “enjoyable overblown melodrama”.



A very strange picture of New York, a rookie cop finds the whole department is on the pad, he transfers to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and plainclothes, borough to borough, until he’s shot in the face by a South Brooklyn heroin dealer while expensively-padded fellow Narcotics detectives look on.

It all goes into his testimony before a special commission, and into this film.

The authenticity is vouched for by Vincent Canby, whose review sounds like a character in the film. Halliwell hit the nail on the head as rarely, “a harrowing true story played with authentic gloom and violence,” furthermore he cites Stanley Kauffmann in rebuttal, “there’s nothing seriously wrong with Serpico except that it’s unmemorable, and not even terribly exciting while it’s going on.”


Lovin’ Molly

Lovin’ Molly is, among other things, a very precise transcription of Jules et Jim from a European-centered political context into a purely American one, but as our critics have never bothered overmuch with any kind of understanding where Truffaut (or much of anything else) is concerned, they have been content to notice a superficial resemblance and add, somewhat feebly, “Texas it ain’t”.

France and Germany are not considered, but Republicans and Democrats, which accounts for the mummery. The great actors who have these roles (with Molly as America herself, who sees her dead or absent men “rising with the moon”, a note from John Ford) imbue them upon occasion with expressivity, especially physical, but a kind of realism sometimes regretted is not in the stores of a political cartoon.

The film is in three parts, filmed on location. Gid narrates the tale in 1925, in the days of Calvin Coolidge, when these two young cowpokes are nearly indistinguishable. Molly takes it up in 1945, when the nation is at war (she has married, because he needed her, a third party whom she has long since buried). Johnny concludes it in 1964, in LBJ’s days.

This sort of film (Elaine May’s Ishtar is a prime example) tends to discombobulate party types, because, insofar as they most certainly are party types, they like to see themselves alone and alone in the right, which accounts for the rather more than rash comments directed at this film as though it were a parakeet’s mirror, ignoring its most comical, most subtle view—not that there is any attempt to conceal it overmuch (the makeup takes its cue from the broad farce of Welles’ Mr. Arkadin), as if anything needed to be hidden when the critics are doing their job.


Murder on the Orient Express

The two salient points are the vindication of Lindbergh and the defense of Poirot’s “second theory” against such films as Jacques Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi, Ritchie’s Prime Cut and Hodges’ Get Carter, expressing his first.

That is to say, Lindbergh was destroyed by the kidnapping, and the Second World War was not a rivalry of opposing gangs.

The metaphors are unified in the atrocity of the crime as portrayed.

Criticism has never essayed a proper analysis, which for a film of this magnitude is a compliment to the public.


Dog Day Afternoon

Dali cast aspersions on Buñuel’s putative idea of filming all the stories in the day’s newspaper one day, it amused Buñuel to pretend he was a beggar once like Sullivan on his travels, and Lorca was denied even “a tiny bit of the Divine Dali’s asshole” to the painter’s regret later, “deep down, I felt he was a great poet”.

Lumet has every base covered in this epic on a Brooklyn street, he sews up the tatters in his net and includes everything in his satire, good does not triumph nor evil expire, though both get their due, but truth and beauty triumph over the lot.

Beckett has this in mind when he writes of language like a veil that must be torn to get at the underlying truth (or the underlying nothingness) there. The stress of action shows up cops and robbers in a compromise with reality, witness is the real response, that of Agent Sheldon, who is at least partly identified with Lumet.

Popcorn diversion is provided by the symmetry of the robber pair, an abstaining suicide-murderer from another country called Wyoming and a henpecked sodomite wishing to change the view.



The Chayefsky/Lumet remake of Capra’s Meet John Doe has largely been taken as a satire of television, which it partly is, and nowadays is marveled at properly for its prophetic truth, but it’s the same story now as it was in 1941, only Chayefsky has honed a few details and essentially transposed the medium from newspapers and radio to TV news. Chayefsky’s economy elides Capra’s conclusion, but the same comfort is offered then as now.

Lumet carried the analysis still further in Power, sharpening a fine point at issue, but it was made in Avildsen’s The Formula as well (“we are the Arabs”). By the same token, Network is the genesis of Verhoeven’s Robocop in its vision of Mammon ruling the world and stock ownership replacing the irreducible individual.



Shaffer’s analysis of Reflections in a Golden Eye is eloquent and biting and altogether the point, his screenplay even has Huston’s gold tinting in Dysart’s dream (Lumet has his “steel-plated” cabbage field in moonlight, followed by the stable loft that warms in tone).

Self-mutilation becomes something else again, the elements are rearranged somewhat.

A secondary interest is doubtless the satire of provincial psychiatrists and horsemanship attendant on the analysis.


The Wiz

One admirer is Fellini in La Città delle donne. One influence is Russell’s Tommy.

Lumet’s great musical is about a Harlem girl stuck at home who’s “never been south of 125th Street.Like Archie Rice’s daughter, courage, hope and heart are lacking to her. It’s quite a different thing, an analysis of Fleming’s or Semon’s The Wizard of Oz with a bare prologue and epilogue of home.

No effort is spared in any dimension, all to bring the camera to bear on the image governed by Lumet’s constant attention, no director could outrival the opulence of the production in itself or the skill of the treatment.


Just Tell Me What You Want

Lumet on stage, screen and television.

Cf. for instance Other People’s Money (dir. Norman Jewison), “The Girl with the Golden Breasts” (Trapped Ashes, dir. Ken Russell).

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), “occupies a world most of us have fantasies about.TV Guide, “curious little sleeper.Film4, “ultimately doesn’t add up to very much at all.Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “condones immoral actions and features foul language... morally offensive.Dan Pavlides (All Movie Guide), “Sidney Lumet romantic comedy.Halliwell’s Film Guide, “silly”, citing Variety, “trashy”.


Prince of the City

Here is the enormous effort required to turn one cop in a crooked department, and you recognize the New York problem of On the Waterfront. He and his partners are “whores and thieves” and talk that way, it takes nearly all the film’s length to get a satisfactory rendering of the facts from him, useful for indictments, and make him presentable to recruits at the Academy.

The stunning effect of Serpico had to be given more breadth, and there a definition of the problem is stated, if cops on the take were doing their job instead, no more crime.

Heroin is acknowledged as the major corrupting influence in Prince of the City, so much money.



Critics have always termed the screenplay a minor thing overdirected by Lumet.

This is the evident basis of Frears’ Prick up your ears on the one hand, and altogether a masterwork of the cinema.

The direction is a complex affair of lighting, set design and camerawork at the front end of the business, the acting is a rare treat and absolutely perfect, the play is rather like Losey’s The Romantic Englishwoman in a way, with a message of consolation for the injured party.

That’s how much critics know.


The Verdict

The lawyer’s Irish joke at the Boston bar is the key to it all.

Abstruse as the mystery is, structurally speaking, it has a lot to do with All the President’s Men (dir. Alan J. Pakula).

The point is, if you sick a hooker on a man, for whatever reason, you pay the freight.



The material dates back to O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh and concerns “the movement” (Loach has an apt commentary in Land and Freedom).

To the limits of absurdity this is examined six ways from Sunday, only to end at a Central Park sit-in.

The Rosenberg case is always cited in reviews, the New York Times detailed Peter Kihss (“pronounced KEYS”), described by Robert D. McFadden as “one of America’s best reporters”, to review the film by distinguishing it from the case. The general critical impression is that Lumet has not solved it.

It is easy to see a great work of the cinema, exemplarily filmed, on a theme also close to Bertolucci’s The Dreamers.


Garbo Talks

No matter how you look at it, the material presents certain difficulties. Lumet adopts a hands-off policy, instead concentrating on set-ups and camera movement. At the great meeting, the camera is at an angle looking past Garbo to the patient, then as slowly as possible moves in to a close-up of the latter, eclipsing the former—a shot adapted out of Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai.

The other great meeting, of the son and the actress, is handled similarly, at an angle, very slowly, and dividing the screen by décor.

Hermione Gingold’s performance also has a somewhat altered tempo, and seems miraculously to have escaped notice. John Schlesinger’s son the critic appears as himself, and so does Adolph Green (Betty Comden appears as “another person”).

A relatively early example of a marketing débâcle that is now de rigueur, because truth and beauty are notorious apple cart upsetters.



The Candidate laid the bride of politics bare to the bachelors of her public, and still political advertisements are big business, the stuff of political commentary and the subject of reform. And yet they are as interchangeable and personal as shampoo bottles.

So you have Power, which perseveres along the line exposed by The Selling of the President 1968 and Michael Ritchie, just so you know the Wizard of Oz is Frank Morgan and no other. Roger Ebert tells, in his review of this film, how flabbergasted television executives were by the truth of Network. Alas, in political circles he was not used to running, and so we have had to wait twenty years or so to see the truth of Power.

The equivoque of the title is prepared by a tacit jest that is framed in the context of a Latin American election campaign managed by the all but ubiquitous Pete St. John (Richard Gere). During a rally, a car bomb goes off, and the candidate rushes from the dais to comfort one of the wounded. To be sure, a “candidate” is one who wears the white garment of Roman office-seekers. St. John directs a camera crew to capture the scene on film, then tells the candidate to wear his now bloodstained white shirt at every rally henceforth. “If it bleeds it leads,” says a reprehensible journalistic axiom, and in this case it leads the country.

There is one more great joke at least. New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Wallace Furman (Fritz Weaver) is dressed as a cowboy riding a white horse and spearheading a wagon train across the desert in a mammoth campaign ad again directed by St. John, with a helicopter shot and all. As Furman reaches the foreground, his horse begins to scare at the noise of the helicopter, and throws him off. The expensive shot is ruined, but St. John recoups by stopping the film just at the moment when the horse rears, making it look as if Furman were The Lone Ranger.

Video output and statistical information are the keys to power, which is the meaning of the culminating montage that so vexed Ebert. As a matter of fact, St. John simply quotes a price to one prospective candidate for the U.S. Senate, not his own fee but the amount of money that must be spent to secure the seat.

But where is real power? It is in oil, and that governs the actual making of men of state. St. John is bullied and bugged into a sudden access of well-meaning whimsy, during which he bolsters the manly purpose of a marginal candidate whom he had earlier derided.

Great play is made with surfaces that are shiny to the point of liquidity, which gives floors that are so reflective the actors appear to be lighted from below (another thing that mystified the Sun-Times).


The Morning After

This is all told a very patient study of Los Angeles in 1986 from a photographic point of view, with color pictures patently rivaling Harry Callahan’s or nearly, and cinematically a study of various light in the city.

“Instantly disposable,” Vincent Canby, New York Times.

“Overwrought and implausible,” Variety.

There is a very nice direction toward Hawks’ The Big Sleep, if any of the professionals had bothered to notice.


Running on Empty

An anagram of Cassavetes’ Big Trouble, long before Gloria.

And this is what it takes to get to Juilliard, let alone Carnegie Hall, from New Jersey and points elsewhere, as the critics will attest.

Not a serious film. “‘Tis the supreme of power; ‘tis might half slumb’ring on its own right arm.”

A warning shot across the bow of unreason, sufficiently.

Two paths in a wood by Frost, arrived at by intermittences. The opening shot suggests Bergman’s query, and leaves it behind.


Family Business

Plasmids for agriculture free of fertilizer are the loot. They are the figment of a start-up company that needs more time to satisfy its investors.

A ganef, the ganef’s son turned legit in the meat business, and the ganef’s grandson on a scholarship, rob the joint to redress a wrong against Prof. Jimmy Chiu, fired and cheated, so as to share in the profit from his rightful invention.

The kid gets caught, his father turns himself and granddad in. Probation for everybody save granddad, who keeps the phony plasmids and the formula that doesn’t work a secret.

This ought to have meant something at the time, but every ten years it becomes more telling, so that any day now critics will be admiring it, another robbery for naught like The Anderson Tapes. A fairy tale about the true ganef, the conservative ganef, and the liberal ganef, with something in it of Coppola’s three godfathers.


Q & A

This is about a cop who has gone over to the Mafia, and about an assistant district attorney wet behind the ears.

Critics were mainly surprised, so they have written, by the Dirty Harry (dir. Don Siegel) dialogue among detectives, and by a certain Mafia view of outsiders that is quite familiar, as one would say.

These are the major considerations, the consequences of Serpico are a new sense of cleanness and a catastrophic buyout with political implications that may amount to nothing, in the long run.

The Mafia is what it is, cops are what they are, “cops and robbers”, as the dialogue goes.

The material is well-known from hundreds of crime films and war films in a specific instance here as Gotham fooling itself the way only Gotham can.


a Stranger Among Us

An essential New York formula, Irish and Jewish, expressed as a complex form made up of jokes, in a manner of speaking. The cop’s daughter is a detective, he’s retired and in AA. The Hasidim are even less worldly than Lumet’s pawnbroker, and live a life of strict discipline and prayer that is as arduous as a military academy.

The detective is a “cowboy” and has seen “a lot of shit”, the rebbe from Auschwitz commiserates with her, like Stravinsky and the Pope.

A young diamond-cutter is murdered, the detective investigates the missing-person report. A couple of cheap hoods muscle in for protection money. The title character is a girl from the streets rescued by the community.

No picture, not even a Hollywood Picture, is as dumb as a critic, read them yourself and be edified.


Guilty as Sin

The Hollywood Pictures ending would tally this as a wishful plea for State’s evidence from the former First Lady and junior Senator from New York and Secretary of State, but on the whole (as Ebert noted) it’s a parody of the Clintons, taking for its cue a line from Nabokov’s story, “The Assistant Producer”, “and that is why I know perfectly well the kind of face General Golubkov and his wife had when the two were at last alone.”

Technically its point of departure is Jewison’s ...and justice for all. and Lumet’s The Verdict. A Hitchcockian finale is prepared a few scenes earlier in the Fritz Lang Metropolis courtroom by a Hitchcockian treatment of actors. The compositions are among the most perfect ever achieved in film, brilliant planar associations and dissociations.


Night Falls on Manhattan

Serpico and Prince of the City continue here as the drug dealer in the bust common to all three films is heard from in court.

Q & A provides the assistant district attorney (later district attorney), down to his white socks. The Verdict contributes a theme of divided loyalty.

It should be plain to see that this is a major summation, but critics were generally unable to see anything at all.

The title is precise, though Kauffmann saw a last light peeping. The film isolates the horns of a dilemma it cannot resolve.

A nefarious hoodlum (Shiek Mahmud-Bey) is sought for drug-dealing, kills several cops and escapes. A “great attorney” (Richard Dreyfuss) surrenders him and offers a plea of self-defense, the cops were out to execute the man because a rival offered a bigger payoff. That’s the dilemma.

The plot is detailed and symbolic, and sparing the critics only because Lumet’s lightning-quick technique demands re-viewing, all of its parts mesh, though at some pretty far removes occasionally, as in the relationship between the DA and a member of the defense team (Lena Olin).

All it does, this film, is state very clearly in a single work a certain conflict that occurs in the dark, so as to avoid the jarring surprises offered by its elements. That’s really useful, and if it gives a dramatic equilibrium, observe the breakdown of law and order leading in Serpico to exile, but in Gordon Parks’ The Super Cops to the daily grind (hence, perhaps, Ron Leibman’s presence).

The acting and direction have been universally commented on, with only slight reservations as to this or that nuance, owing to some difficulty with the perception of shifting perspectives, but that would be to miss the general effect of eyes dilating in the dark, or more strictly speaking, of stumbling-blocks located in obscurity.

The performances are brilliant, especially Leibman as the outgoing DA and Dreyfuss as a workaday crusader. The detail work is quite extensive among the cast, Mahmud-Bey does an explosive turn like Clarence Williams III’s onstage in Stoppard’s Night and Day, and the jury seen in a slow dolly shot is remarkably true to life.


Critical Care

The joke is, “Sam, you made the pants too long,” witness the men’s costumes.

Fashion is the presiding metaphor, Carnaby Street vs. the Bible Belt.

Mark Twain governs the picture as Dr. Butz, a figure of fun.

The moral, surely, is that sleepless third-year residents should not be overtaxed.



Lumet’s copy of the Mona Lisa.

She comes from taking a three-year rap in Miami to defend the Puerto Rican kid from the Irish designer mob in New York, he doesn’t like the posh upstate school and he’s not safe there anyway, she takes him down to Miami for her date with a parole officer. The mob keeps his father’s “bible”, a computer disk of every cop, judge and congressman on the pad.

Lumet’s version is therefore different from its original. A thorough new consideration of the theme, much closer to Richardson’s The Border and De Palma’s Scarface despite a central point and several lines directly from Cassavetes.


Find Me Guilty

Ira Reiner, former District Attorney of Los Angeles, was asked before one trial conducted by his successor how he thought it would go, and replied that it wouldn’t be one of those Perry Mason trials where the truth is suddenly revealed at the end, without realizing perhaps that this was Hamilton Burger’s own reply to a similar question, in practically the same words.

Lumet’s film imitates life consciously, determinedly and precisely. These are the cozening lawyers who practice upon a rapt jury, this is the complaisant and vain judge, it’s the daily life of legal practitioners as we know them. “God only knows,” they say, when asked what it means that the jury has returned early.

The majesty of the law, nevertheless, reveals itself. And there is a defendant who rises to the occasion in propria persona to answer the charges and expose a prosecution built on sand.

One critic, G. Allen Johnson of the San Francisco Chronicle, has understood this film rather well. Others complained of its moral unfitness. Their position is explained by still others who rank the film as incompetent, so scrupulous and exacting is its representation of reality.

The beginning cites Coppola’s The Godfather and Scorsese’s Goodfellas in quick shorthand exposition, the ending suggests Rosenberg’s Cool Hand Luke. Wiard’s Tom Horn figures in the pasty-faced justicers throughout.

The image is so grievously deteriorated by the digital transfer that the reasons for its treatment thus must have included a firing squad for distant relations.