Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sidney Lumet

With his passing today I thought we should look at 2 of Sidney Lumet's finest films.


"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" For everyone who has seen Network that line comes quickly to mind. Peter Finch's portrayal of mad prophet Howard Beale was amazing. His representation of a television news anchor gone over the edge earned him an Academy Award. The range of emotion from angst to anger to disillusionment was fantastic. He was awarded the Best Actor Award posthumously.

But, for me, the most amazing thing happens when you view it today. When it came out (1976) Network struck a chord with Americans. We were in the middle of an oil crisis, still reeling from Watergate and Nixon, and Vietnam was fresh on our minds. And the film gave voice to those insecurities and angers. But now, almost 35 years later, the portrayal of television is the most poignant part of Paddy Chayefsky's script. In the film, anchorman Howard Beale uses the news broadcast to opine upon his opinions and personal feelings. He reminds me of current anchors like Keith Olberman or Bill O'Reilly. They seem more interested in convincing the viewer that they are right than in providing accurate information. That wasn't true when this movie was released. But Chayefsky was sure that ratings and personality would take over and they have. Instead of Walter Cronkite we have Katie Couric. The likes of FOX, MSNBC and others use their "bully pulpit" to ferment a fever that keeps the viewers coming back.

From an entertainment viewpoint this film is outstanding. Network won 4 Oscars including Best Actor, Actress and Supporting Actress. This was only the second time that one film won 3 of the 4 acting Oscars, joining 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky also won for Best Screenplay. It was his third Oscar. While the acting is top-notch it is the script that carries this film to its great heights. The points that Chayefsky makes about the power of media and the lack of accountability within television are more important today than ever. His "prediction" of a network that appeals to a different audience looks eerie in retrospect with the later success of Fox.

This film tells the story of a failing television network. William Holden is the head of the money-losing news division. Robert Duvall comes in to take over the network and make it profitable. He hires Faye Dunaway. She decides to "program" the news and make it more exciting and entertaining. This leads to anchorman Peter Finch becoming the superstar of the UBS network. Ratings go ever higher as the network sinks lower into the muck. Stay through to the end. When ratings begin to slip Duvall and Dunaway hatch the most amazing event in television history to inspire ratings!

Network is powerful. Strong directing, a great script and terrific performances make this an important and entertaining film. Netflix it today!

Filmed in 1976, directed by Sydney Lumet, written by Paddy Chayefsky (see my earlier blog about 'The Americanization of Emily'), starring Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Beatrice Straight and Ned Beatty.


I love caper films. If you have read my earlier blogs this comes as no surprise. I have previously reviewed 'The Taking of Pelham One Two Three', 'Thunderbolt and Lightfoot', 'Charlie Varrick' and others. Director Sidney Lumet turns master crime writer Lawrence Sander's novel into a fast-paced caper film extraordinaire. Sean Connery stars as 'Duke Anderson'. Just released after 10 years in prison, Anderson decides to rob an entire upscale apartment building. He brings in a crew of specialists that is headed by Martin Balsam and Christopher Walken. Balsam is an antiques expert that scouts the apartments for paintings, jewels and other valuables. Walken, in his film debut, is a pal of Connery's from prison who works with phone lines and other electronics. Anderson uses various contacts to plan and orchestrate this robbery deluxe.

Little does he know that almost every action he takes is being taped. Either the IRS, FBI, CIA or other government agency is following many of the people with whom he meets. These are the tapes referenced in the title. Even his long-lost girlfriend, played by the very attractive Dyan Cannon, is being watched. Since there are many parties to such a robbery it is complex and time-consuming. Can the crew pull off such a mighty feat of crime? Will one or more of the agencies taping Anderson realize what is going on and prevent the robbery?

Sander's novel and the screenplay by Frank Pierson provide many unique twists and turns. I can not think of another caper film that has the feel of The Anderson Tapes. Lumet's direction, as always, is first-rate. He moves the setting of the film back and forth from pre-to-post robbery throughout. This makes it both easier and more difficult to predict the outcome. I found it to be a master stroke of direction. But it is the always attention-grabbing Sean Connery that carries the film. He is likable enough to root for the criminals, but dark enough to be believable. Balsam is also good. His slightly over-the-top portrayal of the antiques dealer is quite endearing. And Walken shows some of the brilliance that we will see later in his long career.

Whether it is for the intelligent caper, the fine script and direction or the terrific cast, The Anderson Tapes should keep you entertained. There is also the Quincy Jones soundtrack. It is an intriguing combination of early disco with electronic music. Everyone either loves it or hates it. Personally, I think it's great.

Filmed in 1971, directed by Sidney Lumet, written by Frank Pierson, starring Sean Connery, Martin Balsam, Christopher Walken, Dyan Cannon and Alan King. For all the Saturday Night Live fans, look for original cast member Garrett Morris as one of the police officers.

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