NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sidney Lumet, an American film director known for inspiring top-notch performances from actors in a stream of classic films including “12 Angry Men,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network” and “Fail-Safe,” died on Saturday at age 86, his Hollywood talent agency said.
Lumet’s death at his Manhattan home was confirmed by Michelle Suess, a spokeswoman for International Creative Management in Los Angeles.
Lumet was one of the leading film directors of the second half of the 20th century. He was prolific, directing more than 40 movies, and was versatile, dabbling in many different film genres. He shot many of his movies in his native New York.
Lumet received an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 2005. He had been nominated for Oscars five times without winning: as best director for “12 Angry Men” (1957), “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975), “Network” (1976) and “The Verdict” (1982), and for best screenplay as co-writer of “Prince Of The City” (1981).
His films, nominated in a variety of categories for more than 50 Oscars, typically were unsentimental and well-crafted, exploring intelligent and complicated themes.
In a busy 12-year span — 1964 to 1976 — Lumet directed 18 films, including “Fail-Safe,” “The Pawnbroker,” “The Group,” “The Anderson Tapes,” “Serpico,” “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network.”
He continued to direct films well into his 80s.
“He has the energy of a young man and the mind of a young man,” Oscar-winner Philip Seymour told the Houston Chronicle. Hoffman starred in Lumet’s bleak crime melodrama “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” in 2007 when the director was 83.
Lumet was acclaimed for his technical know-how and his ability to coax strong performances from actors. He drew some of the best career performances out of Hollywood stars such as Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Al Pacino and Faye Dunaway. He directed 17 acting performances nominated for Oscars.
“Elia Kazan used to really try to get inside the head and psyche of everybody he worked with,” Lumet told the New York Times in 2007, referring to the influential director. “I’m the exact opposite school. I don’t like to get involved.”
He added, “And I try not to work with lunatics.”
Many of his films were masterpieces. In the tense 1964 Cold War drama “Fail-Safe,” an electrical malfunction sends U.S. bombers on a nuclear attack on Moscow, prompting the American president, played by Fonda, to sacrifice New York to atomic bombs to avert all-out war with the Soviet Union.
In his film directorial debut, “12 Angry Men,” a lone dissenting juror played by Fonda struggles to convince other jurors, including Jack Klugman and Lee J. Cobb, of the innocence of an accused murderer.
In “Network,” TV executives exploit the ravings of an anchorman played by Peter Finch, who memorably shrieks, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
In 1973’s “Serpico,” Pacino plays an honest policeman who takes on the corruption of fellow New York cops. Pacino was back in 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon,” about a man robbing a bank to pay for his male lover’s sex-change operation.
Even some of Lumet’s misfires were memorable. He directed “The Wiz” in 1978, adapting “The Wizard of Oz” with a black cast headed by Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, but the resulting clunky musical was jeered by film critics.
Grammy-winning composer Quincy Jones, who worked with Lumet on five films, including “The Wiz,” said in a statement that Lumet’s films “made an indelible mark on our popular culture with their stirring commentary on our society.”
Lumet was unsentimental about his own films.
“I don’t look at my old work. When it’s done it’s done,” he said in a 2007 newspaper interview. “It’s very nice when your movie has a kind of resonance, when it stays with a person enough so that they start relating it to other things you’ve done. But I don’t.”
Born on June 25, 1924, Lumet served as an Army radar technician in World War II, then worked as a stage actor in New York and before directing acclaimed live TV dramas during the 1950s. He was married four times.
Reporting by Edith Honan in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Philip Barbara