Monday, June 13, 2011

Missed it: Farley Granger & Sidney Lumet, both RIP

I'm sorry to say I missed word of the passing of actor Farley Granger (March 27th) and director Sidney Lumet (April 9th). Both were creative people whose work I enjoyed, so here's a few thoughts on the duo:

Farley Granger is notable to me (and likely many others) primarily for his appearances in Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951) and Rope (1948). In the former, he was the film's protagonist while in the latter, he portrayed a villain.

Many Hitchcock fans find his male protagonists drab (Robert Donat, Cary Grant & Jimmy Stewart being three notable exceptions) and I've seen Granger's performance in Strangers cited as a prime example, particularly when cast against Robert Walker's psychopathic Bruno, one of the great Hitchcock villains. The film, of course, is the notorious picture where two men discuss swapping murders, but one of them takes the idle conversation seriously.

However, where I part ways with the majority of Hitch fans is Rope, which I number amongst my favourites of the master's output. As one of the two murderers in Rope, I felt Granger stole the show as his nervous fear the murder will be discovered maintains most of the tension of the film, especially as his partner (John Dall) insists on toying with their party guests, giving them opportunities to guess the murder has been done, until Jimmy Stewart's character begins to catch on.

I've also seen Granger in Hans Christian Andersen and the adaptation of "Gift of the Magi" in O. Henry's Open House; another of his films, They Drive by Night, has been on my search-and-see list for a while.

I only began to catch on to how exceptional Sidney Lumet was about four years ago when his name kept turning up in the credits of movies I had just discovered. I was awestruck to learn he was still alive and making films. It couldn't last forever, but I'm impressed Lumet's career lasted from 1957 to 2007.

First and foremost, when I think of Lumet I'll think of 12 Angry Men (1957), my favourite legal drama, in which 12 jurors debate a murder trial, with only Henry Fonda's reasonable juror arguing for the defendant's innocence. Lumet's other fantastic legal picture, the Verdict (1982) was a neatly restrained drama with Paul Newman as a downtrodden lawyer trying to win a case by the book while his opponents pull out every dirty trick. Similarly, Lumet's Serpico (1973) had Al Pacino as a lone man against the system. Lumet's probably going to be best-remembered for Network (1976), the film everyone quotes but no one watches; it's a very broad picture in how it depicts the merciless exploitation of television and perhaps not the blockbuster today it was back in '76 (when Beatrice Straight won an Academy Award for a role which is frankly more of a cameo than a supporting performance), but well worth watching.

Granger and Lumet; two fine men, both shall be remembered.

No comments: