Based upon a real-life story that happened in the early seventies in which the Chase Manhattan Bank in Flatbush, Brooklyn, was held siege by a gay bank robber determined to steal enough money for his male lover to undergo a sex change operation.
On a hot summer afternoon, the First Savings Bank of Brooklyn is held up by Sonny and Sal, two down-and-out characters. Although the bank manager and female tellers agree not to interfere with the robbery, Sonny finds that there's actually nothing much to steal, as most of the cash has been picked up for the day.
Sonny then gets an unexpected phone call from Police Captain Moretti, who tells him the place is surrounded by the city's entire police force. Having few options under the circumstances, Sonny nervously bargains with Moretti, demanding safe escort to the airport and a plane out of the country in return for the bank employees' safety.
Penelope Allen ... Sylvia
Sully Boyar ... Mulvaney
John Cazale ... Sal
Beulah Garrick ... Margaret
Carol Kane ... Jenny
Sandra Kazan ... Deborah
Marcia Jean Kurtz ... Miriam
Amy Levitt ... Maria
John Marriott ... Howard
Estelle Omens ... Edna
Al Pacino ... Sonny
During the late sixties and into the seventies, the bank heist seems to have become a metaphor for the counter culture rebellion. Bank robbers were no longer the villains, but the heroes, fighting against the capitalist establishment like an urban Robin Hood. Dog Day Afternoon is part of that tradition.
Al Pacino is, as ever, brilliant. He is able to bring charisma, charm and vulnerability to the character of Sonny Wortzik in nothing more than a way of walking, or the way he holds a phone. Troubled, insecure, confused, Sonny makes for a lousy bank robber. And yet, when he steps from the relative safety of the bank building and into the street, before a hundred waiting armed police, he changes completely. He becomes a strong, proud, prowling voice of the working class, goading the police, riling the gathered crowd. In referencing the prison massacre at Attica in 1971, he becomes a voice for the urban poor, and it is a powerful and raging voice that contains the potential for victory and success, even when you know it is doomed.
An incredibly powerful work, very much of its time, and all the better for it. The 1970's was a decade when major studios hired actors for their talent, not their looks or teen appeal. When major studios hired writers proud to take on sensitive political and social issues. When major studios financially backed and strongly promoted movies that mattered and said something. Dog Day Afternoon is the product of that system and as such, could never be made today.
I've watched this film for the third time in a few years last night. Instead of writing a straight review, I'd like to jot down ten thoughts just off the top of my head concerning this exquisite movie:
1) Watching this film will change forever your perception of the bank heist genre, making you question the contrived cinematic conventions these films usually make use of.
2) The source of this film's paradoxical and/or farcical elements spring from life itself, not from film or pre-existing cinematic conventions. Sometimes, the absurdities of life are so great, they dwarf those included in any form of fiction. Without even trying to make that point, this film captures that concept beautifully.
3) Its tone in relation to the homosexual theme is ahead of its time. In fact it's ahead of OUR time, even, in hardly making an issue out of it at all - it just IS.
4) It captures the climate of the 70s in a manner so sober, you'll remember its unshowy yet authentic feel forever.
5) Lumet's film brings to life the concept of the distorting lens of the media and how different groups with different agendas will turn an outlaw into a hero, with far more efficiency than Oliver Stone's brash, bloated, childish and repetitive Natural Born Killers.
6) Watching this film will illustrate to the younger generations exactly why Al Pacino has earned himself the legendary status he probably no longer would deserve with his performances of the last 10 years alone. **SPOILERS**: Just watch those last ten minutes of him handcuffed against the bonnet of a car, where he doesn't say a word, but speaks volumes with his eyes and his soul just oozing out of every frame at the end of the movie; you'll remember those eyes for as long as you live!
7) Watching this film, you'll realise that firing a gun-shot is a BIG DEAL in real life, and that other films make too much use of gun fire in a highly contrived way.
8) All that tension deriving from pointed guns unable to fire a shot OR move away… you realise Tarantino must've taken notes sometime along the way.
9) No genre is old or done too many times before if it's handled with this amount of freshness, inspiration and talent.
10) Watching Dog Day Afternoon for the third time has filled me with the same amount of wonder at the power of truly inspired but unobtrusive film-making as it did first time round.
Al Pacino has portrayed some memorable characters in some classic movies like 'Serpico,' 'Scent of a Woman,' 'Donnie Brasco' and the three 'Godfather' Films. 'Dog Day Afternoon' and Sonny Wortzik belong high on that list.
As the movie opens, Sonny and his two-man gang are nervously waiting outside a Brooklyn bank which they intend to rob. Sonny has a plan all worked out, but after the robbery begins, it quickly unravels. Not the least dismaying development is that the bank is almost out of cash. Shortly after this revelation, police begin to arrive in numbers that would be able to lay siege to a small country (Wyoming, maybe?) This sets up a hostage situation that lasts the afternoon and late into the night.
One might think this setting might make things a little claustrophobic but director Sidney Lumet has handled this problem before; witness his film 'Twelve Angry Men.' The goings-on in the bank itself are fascinating as the moods and relationships of the hostages and their captors develop and change over the course of the long day. Out on the street the crime scene immediately turns into a circus with thousands of onlookers straining at police lines, news media doing everything they can to get close to the story, and a new busload of police arriving every few minutes.
Great performances are all over the place here. This is a tour-de-force for Pacino, even by his standards, as the bungling crook who has instantly become the biggest media star in the city. Sonny may have blown the first role, but he shines in the second. One of Pacino's "Godfather" brothers, John Cazale is excellent is the less-flashy role as Sonny's partner Sal, definitely not the brains of this operation. Events are soon beyond Sal's comprehension and his subtle performance is wonderful. Charles Durning is super as police lieutenant Moretti who works as hard as he can to keep the situation from spinning totally out of control. He's juggling desperate fugitives in the bank, a crowd growing crazier and crazier, aggressive newspeople, and some of his own cops who are ready to end this thing with a bang. When the FBI shows up, the agent in charge (James Broderick) doesn't even say hello to Moretti. He cooly assesses the situation and decides their plan of action, and from that moment on there is a grim air of fatalism hanging over Sonny and Sal.
There are more twists and turns we won't go into here. This is a great work by Pacino, Lumet, and most of the other actors in the film. I loved it.
* Al Pacino and Chris Sarandon's phone conversation was improvised.
* John Cazale's role as Sal was originally intended for an 18-year-old, which was the age of the real Sal.
* Frank Pierson wrote his Oscar-winning script around only 12 sequences.
* Based on the real-life story of John Wojtowicz, who attempted to rob a Chase Manhattan bank branch in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York on 22 August 1972. He and Salvatore Naturile held nine bank employees hostage for over 14 hours. Wojtowicz was trying to get money for his lover, Ernest Aron, to have a sex change operation. Naturale was killed in the standoff and Wojtowicz received 20 years in a federal penitentiary. Wojtowicz was paid $7,500 plus one percent of the net movie profits for the movie rights for his story. He gave $2,500 to Aron to have the operation. Aron had the surgery and changed her name to Liz Eden. She died of AIDS in 1987. Wojtowicz was released from prison after serving seven years.
* The real bank robber (John Wojtowicz) had watched The Godfather (1972) the day he robbed the Chase Manhattan bank to get ideas. Both Al Pacino and John Cazale were in "The Godfather".
* The real robbers got $213,000 in the robbery.
* After the initial title sequence (Elton John, "Amoreena") there is no background or incidental music on the soundtrack.
* The outdoor sequences were actually filmed in cold weather. So that their breath would not be visible, the actors placed ice in their mouths before each take.
* In the original script, Sonny and his trans-sexual lover were supposed to take part in a scene outside the bank in which a heart-felt goodbye was to take place along with a kiss. Al Pacino refused to do this, claiming it would take away from the phone conversation between Sonny and Leon. Frank Pierson was forced to make appropriate changes. This resulted in the just telephone conversation instead.
* Halfway through the production, Al Pacino collapsed from exhaustion and had to be hospitalized for a short time. After production was completed, he decided to stop doing films for a while and return to stage work.
* Al Pacino's performance as Sonny Wortzik is ranked #4 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
* The movie's line "Attica! Attica!" was voted as the #86 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).
* The entire film is mostly improvised, though around the script. After rehearsing the script for weeks with his cast, Sidney Lumet took the improvisations that were made while rehearsing and made that the official screenplay.
* The gun that Sonny uses in the bank robbery is a Sturm Ruger Mini 14. The gun went into production in 1974, one year before the movie was released, but two years after the real event took place.
* According to his authorized biography Al Pacino quit the film at one point and his role was offered to Dustin Hoffman.
* The Jet that Sonny, Sal and the hostages are to board at the airport is a CV -990 and the airline is Modern Air. Modern air went out of business the year the film was released which was 1975.
SPOILER: Even though this film is about a bank robbery, and has several firearms throughout the whole film, only two shots are fired. The first is when Sonny (Al Pacino) shoots his rifle at a window to scare off the police that are trying to go around the back of the bank. The second and final one is at the end when Murphy (Lance Henriksen) shoots Sal (John Cazale) in the head, resulting to his death.