Just watched The Verdict for the first time since it came out forty years ago in 1982. Sidney Lumet at the top of his game, a perfect damn script by David Mamet (I can’t say how much it owes to the original novel), and spectacular work by an extraordinary cast including, in supporting roles, Lindsay Crouse, Julie Bovasso, Colin Stinton, Kent Broadhurst and Lewis Stadlen. I’ve admired some of the films made this year, but I haven’t seen one to match this for the richness of the subtext. In two of Charlotte Rampling’s best scenes, she doesn’t have a word of dialogue, but we read her mind. Yipes.
Watching this reminded me of a conversation I had the Jay Presson Allen. After the property had gone through several hands, Sidney Lumet and Paul Newman were set to do it. Lumet was dissatisfied with the script he had and asked Jay (who wrote for him the brilliant screenplay of Prince of the City) to take another pass. Jay asked to see all the previous scripts. When she read Mamet’s original draft, she told Lumet that he shouldn’t bother hiring her. Lumet should go back to Mamet’s script because it was as good as it could be. And they went back to Mamet’s script and came up with a plum.
I used to be a little friendly with David many decades ago. We were both Chicago boys. We both had links to Second City (I wrote a book about the place and he had waited tables there). We both made our reputations in Chicago. In fact, David told me that I was responsible for his first publication of a play. I saw The Duck Variations and recommended it to Stanley Richards for his annual anthology of one-act plays. (I had two plays in that series.) Somewhere in my library, I have a photocopy of a typescript of American Buffalo with David’s handwritten revisions. I was there at the opening night of St. Nicholas (the Chicago theater he started with Steven Schachter, William H. Macy and Patricia Cox). The show? A slightly recast version of American Buffalo (it had previously played Goodman’s second stage) featuring Mike Nussbaum as Teach, with Macy and JJ Johnston. I came out very impressed, thinking, “Wow, this is a swell American spin on Pinter.” Later, Pinter and Mamet became friends, and it was Pinter who was responsible for Glengarry premiering in London.
If I recall correctly, Glengarry is dedicated to Pinter. David had felt insecure about how he’d handled the exposition in Glengarry and wanted Pinter’s opinion. Pinter told him he had nothing to worry about. Given David’s rightward shift in politics, and Pinter’s solid position on the left, I wonder what happened to their friendship. David wrote “Why I am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal” for the Village Voice in May ’98 and Pinter died in December. I wonder if they even talked about this. Anybody have any information?
Anyway, The Verdict. Wow. The summation speech for Newman is one of Newman’s finest hours. And the scene in which Crouse faces Mason is sensational. (Crouse did two more pictures with Lumet — Daniel and Prince of the City. She did one more picture with Newman — they have some funny scenes together in Slap Shot.)