Prince Endures

In my 4.9.11 Sidney Lumet obit I insisted that “Lumet’s masterpiece is Prince of the City — a nearly three-hour-long drama about the morality of finking out your friends in order to find your morality, and entirely about New York cops and mob guys and district attorneys and junkies, most of it set in the offices of this or that prosecutor with guys dressed in suits and shirtsleeves with cold takeout food and tepid coffee on the desk.”

I was therefore delighted to come upon Steven Santostwo-part video essay about this 1981 drama, which opened 30 years ago today.

“Lumet is fascinated by the logic behind corruption,” Santos writes. “What is the thought process that causes people to lose their way? The key to Lumet’s success in exploring this theme is the degree to which he does not pass black and white judgment on his characters. The more we see ourselves reflected in people who justify their amoral actions, the more Lumet has made these people human. While Q & A and Night Falls on Manhattan admirably try to explore the gray zone of morality and corruption, it is Prince of the City that is Sidney Lumet’s masterwork on that theme.

“While Prince of the City has many admirers, the film has not gotten its due for its influence on the genre or the complexity with which it presents its subject matter. I consider it to be the Sidney Lumet film to watch to fully understand who he is as a director, a summation of all his work. With its large cast, the film creates a detailed world with communities of lawyers, gangsters, drug addicts and cops. At the center of it all is a performance by Treat Williams that ranks among the best, comparable to the greatest work of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, actors originally considered for the role.”

Here’s part 2.

  • NDH

    Like all masterpieces, it somehow does not exist on Blu-ray. I’m still shocked that Warner Bros actually ended up releasing THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING on the format earlier this year. Such films are few and far between.

  • Mr. Gittes

    Christopher Nolan had Wally Pfister watch Prince of the City several times to prepare for The Dark Knight Rises.

    Ditto, NDH. I want the blu, too.

  • Rashad

    Gittes where did you read that?

  • elzilcho

    This is my favorite Lumet film. Serpico is more highly regarded, but I think this one is superior in every way.

  • Joe Gillis

    This is one of those great movies with a near-fatal misstep at its core. In terms of its scope, in terms of its complexity, in terms of the caliber of supporting performances, Prince of the City ranks as one of the great policers (certainly it tops Lumet’s contributions to the genre), yet Treat Williams is fairly terrible in the lead role. I have never been so aghast at the disparity between movie and its leading man; say what you will about the psychological torment his Daniel Ciello is going through, but Williams manifests his troubles through some of the worst overacting I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing genuine about the lather he works himself into; the subtitle to the film could be, “When Method Actors Go Wrong.” It’s obvious, appalling work marring an otherwise perfect movie.

  • Gaydos

    I’m writing a piece about the days when real directors made real films at the Studios. SO here’s proof it was still happening as recently as 30 years ago.

    Agree with Jeff on this film’s qualities, not sure if Gillis saw the same film. Williams is great.

    Maybe not Nolte in Q&A great, but pretty great.

  • lens darkly

    I wish Warner Home video would relax their “no outsoucring of DVD/Blu-Ray titles to thrid parties” policy. Criterion would have be all over this by now if Warner Home Video would let them.

  • gFresh

    Great film.

  • Jericho Cane

    Rashad: Pfister mentions it near the end of this lengthy interview (around the 36 minute mark).

  • berg

    between The Pursuit of D B Cooper and Prince of the City, 1981 was a great year for Treat Williams

  • Robert Cashill

    More from Williams: tp://,60149/

    The movie is on DVD.

  • ulikestar

    lizbeth blogGood play video essay.

  • Rod32303

    In 1981 I was 17 years old and sat through” Prince of the City”. I remember being blown away by some of the ACTING WITH A CAPITAL A, but it was long and though I followed it well enough, I didn’t FEEL it. When “Q & A” came out in 1990 I was 26 and had lived a bit of a life, and I was breathless and blown away at that film, I certainly felt that one, topped of by not just the astonishing performance from Nolte, but the career high work (arguably) from Timothy Hutton and Armand Assante.

    I am thankful for the reminder of this film Sucks it isn’t out on Blu Ray, but I will find it on Amazon or Netflix.

    Lumet. Forever missed.

  • Rothchild

    This would be one of the all time great movies if it had Pacino in it. Everyone except Treat Williams is perfect.

  • Steven Kar

    Rothchild, thank you.

  • arispil

    Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Deathtrap, THE VERDICT…all better films than Prince of the City.

  • Alboone

    Throughout my life I’ve come into contact with a few retired NYC Police Officers and when I mention Prince of the City their faces just turn ashen. They’ll either nod their heads and say “yeah” or they’ll just nod and quickly try to change the subject. Its liking asking a Veteran about their experiences…they just don’t want to go there.

  • DiscoNap

    Everything that’s troublesome about Treat Williams (who I incidentally think is the fucking MAN) makes him perfect for this movie. He’s ridiculously vain, always trying to please, seems over his head, and is pretty much dumber than everyone else around him. You’re constantly not secure about him carrying his part, just like you’re constantly sure Ciello is going to fall the fuck apart. This is not like him trying to play some badass General in Mulholland Falls. It’s the absolute best lightweight in a heavyweight role this side of Ryan O’Neal.

    Bonus points for being the college roommate of the psychiatrist I got sent to as a child when my parents got divorced.

  • vansmith

    Treat is the weakest link in the movie but maybe that’s on purpose..

  • MilkMan

    Everyone who says that Treat Williams is horrible in the lead role is absolutely right, because he is. There’s a reason he fell off the map. He’s a Ham Sandwich. He’s so unsubtle and coked-out he makes Eric Roberts in Pope of Greenwich Village look like Warren Oates in Cockfighter.

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