It’s been over two years since Sidney Lumet left us, but what he left us with is an incredible body of work that spans six decades (be sure to check out our retrospective). From his first feature film “12 Angry Men” to “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” which came out 50 years later, those who wish to tackle his entire filmography could understandably feel intimidated. Furthermore, before Lumet even made “12 Angry Men,” he had already directed hundreds of television episodes from ‘50s shows such as “Danger” and “You Are There.” The Seventh Art has recently discovered one of his more obscure works, which had been posted on YouTube a few years ago by Princeton University with barely over 1,000 views.
Entitled “The Challenge,” the program was intended to be a pilot episode of a series meant to tackle various issues that were negatively affecting society. Lumet directed the episode, which was written by Reginald Rose and Rod Serling, and it tells the story of “a school bus driver who’s been fired by the school board of his district after refusing to sign a loyalty oath.” The episode, as explained on Princeton’s website, “questions whether loyalty oaths were effective in their efforts to prevent Communists from subverting American institutions, whether they were constitutional, and if they led to additional rights or ethics violations.”
The show was co-produced by the Fund for the Republic, which at the time gave out grants and created original works meant to explore “racial discrimination, blacklisting, academic freedom, and the legality and effectiveness of loyalty oaths.” Unfortunately, “The Challenge” was never picked up by a network because it was considered too hot for television as it didn’t properly “editorialize about the issues.” Of course, Lumet went on to become a legendary director and co-writer Rod Serling went on to create “The Twilight Zone.” Reginald Rose, by the way, wrote the teleplay and the feature film adaptation of “12 Angry Men” which Lumet would direct two years later. Small world.
It’s amazing to think how such a great meeting of the minds could make a show and not have it seen by anyone for over 50 years. Major props should be given to Princeton for putting it up on YouTube and to The Seventh Art for their discovery. Be sure to watch “The Challenge” below.