This true-crime expose charts 12 years in the life of Frank Serpico, a deep-cover New York cop, finding corruption at every turn. Fired by a full-throttle from Al Pacino, the film is rightly hailed as a hardscrabble classic of 70s American cinema.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
In which the director takes an uncharacteristic detour through Europe to shoot a plush, polished adaptation of the Agatha Christie whodunnit. The first-class cast makes room for Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall and John Gielgud, while Albert Finney headlines as Hercule Poirot. Christie approved, but apparently took issue with the skimpiness of Finney's moustache.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Lumet's vertiginous opening montage plunges right into the heat, stench and hubbub of a New York summertime. Pacino and John Cazale are the desperate bandits who rob a Brooklyn bank and are then pinned inside by the cops. Dog Day Afternoon sparks and combusts; it's a tragicomic tour-de-force that plays like an improv session with the gas turned up.
Peter Finch is the evening news anchor who threatens to kill himself, live on air. He's "mad as hell and he's not going to take it any more". Lumet's direction bulled Paddy Chayefsky's rambunctious media satire into bristling, Oscar-winning life. More than three decades on, his Network remains as relevant as ever.
The Wiz (1978)
Let it not be forgotten that Lumet made the occasional wild, flamboyant folly too. The Wiz was Motown Productions' misconceived musical attempt to take Oz uptown. It starred Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Richard Pryor as the Wizard. It promptly went down with all hands on deck.
12 Angry Men (1957)Fresh from his apprenticeship on the New York stage, Lumet made his screen debut with this claustrophobic morality play, casting Henry Fonda as the lone sane man on a jury that is being led by the nose. 12 Angry Men initially sputtered at the box office, a sore thumb in a mid-50s age of gaudy widescreen Technicolor. It was later selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.
The Pawnbroker (1964)
More anguished close-ups, high-stakes drama and high-contrast black and white. Rod Steiger gives an electrifying performance as the tormented Holocaust survivor, rattling around East Harlem and seeing ghosts on every subway car.
The Hill (1964)
Lumet upped sticks to the deserts of Libya for this drama about a brutal British glasshouse. Taking time out from his 007 day-job, Sean Connery stars as the enigmatic sergeant major convicted an assaulting his superior officer. The director and star went on to collaborate on a number of other projects, including The Anderson Tapes and The Offence.
The Verdict (1982)
Vintage late-period Lumet: a steely, sombre redemption saga, scripted by David Mamet. Paul Newman gives a majestic performance as an alcoholic ambulance chasing lawyer who is handed a supposedly cut-and-dried case, while there's devastating support on the fringes from femme fatale Charlotte Rampling and James Mason as the silken "Prince of Darkness".
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
Lumet continued making films through his 60s and 70s, eventually racking up more than 50 screen credits. He went out on a high note. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is an urgent, sweaty account of a heist gone horribly wrong, farmed through various viewpoints and boasting terrific performances from Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. At the age of 83, it seemed, the director had lost none of his rigour and ambition.