In the wake of his passing, tributes to Hollywood legend Sindey Lumet focused mainly on 12 Angry Men, The Verdict, and Dog Day Afternoon, all worthy pieces of cinema (Serpico is less so, in my opinion). He deserves credit for at least two other things.
First, he largely rescued Sean Connery from Bondage by casting him in meaty dramatic parts as Connery’s interest in Bond was waning. The Hill, The Offence, and The Anderson Tapes remain highly watchable today, and they showed the film world that Connery had a lot more talent than his role as 007 let him exercise.
Second, Lumet made one of the best Holocaust films ever, The Pawnbroker. From slump-shouldered Rod Steiger, Lumet coaxed a performance that is the actor’s best — better even than his more heralded role as Sheriff Gillespie in In the Heat of the Night. And the classic Lumet claustrophobic New York sets work perfectly to help us feel Sol Nazerman’s agony and his inability to escape the horrors of the war and memory. Sadly, the film isn’t watched as often as Lumet’s other great movies, probably because it’s simply emotionally harder to experience (The Verdict is also a portrait of overwhelming loneliness but it ultimately treads more gently on the viewer’s spirit because it has an uplifting ending). But it remains one of the high points of Lumet’s distinguished career.