Dog Day Afternoon
Dog Day Afternoon is a 1975 American neo-noir crime drama film directed by Sidney Lumet, written by Frank Pierson, and produced by Martin Bregman and Martin Elfand. The film stars Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon, Penelope Allen, James Broderick, Lance Henriksen, and Carol Kane. The title refers to the sultry "dog days" of summer.
|Dog Day Afternoon|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sidney Lumet|
|Screenplay by||Frank Pierson|
|Based on||The Boys in the Bank|
by P. F. Kluge
|Cinematography||Victor J. Kemper|
|Edited by||Dede Allen|
Artists Entertainment Complex
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$50 million|
The film was inspired by P. F. Kluge's article "The Boys in the Bank" in LIFE magazine, about a similar robbery of a Brooklyn bank by John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturale on August 22, 1972.
The film received critical acclaim upon its September 1975 release by Warner Bros., some of which referred to its anti-establishment tone. Dog Day Afternoon was nominated for several Academy Awards and Golden Globe awards, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. In 2009, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
On August 22, 1972, first-time crook Sonny Wortzik, his friend Salvatore "Sal" Naturale, and Stevie attempt to rob the First Brooklyn Savings Bank. The plan immediately goes awry when Stevie loses his nerve and flees, and Sonny discovers they have arrived after the daily cash pickup, finding only $1,100 in cash.
Sonny takes the bank’s traveler's cheques and burns the register in a trash can, but the smoke raises suspicion outside, and the building is surrounded by police. The two panicked robbers take the bank employees hostage.
Police Detective Sergeant Eugene Moretti calls the bank and Sonny bluffs that he is prepared to kill the hostages. Sal assures Sonny that he is ready to kill if necessary. A security guard has an asthma attack and Sonny releases him as a display of good faith. Moretti convinces Sonny to step outside. Using the head teller as a shield, Sonny begins a dialogue with Moretti that culminates in his shouting "Attica! Attica!" to invoke the recent Attica Prison riot. The crowd begins cheering for Sonny.
Sonny demands a vehicle to drive himself and Sal to the airport so they can board a jet. He also demands for pizzas to be brought for the hostages, and for his wife to be brought to the bank. Sonny's wife, Leon Shermer, a trans woman, arrives and reveals that the robbery was intended to pay for her sex reassignment surgery. She divulges that Sonny has children with his estranged wife, Angie.
As night sets in, the bank’s lights are shut off as FBI Agent Sheldon takes command of the scene. He refuses to give Sonny any more favors, but when the bank manager Mulvaney goes into diabetic shock, Sheldon lets a doctor inside. Sheldon convinces Leon to talk to Sonny on the phone; she reveals that she attempted suicide to escape the abusive Sonny, and was hospitalized at Bellevue Hospital when police found her. Leon turns down Sonny's offer to join him and Sal in their escape. Sonny tells police that Leon had nothing to do with the robbery.
Sonny agrees to let Mulvaney leave, but he refuses to leave his employees. The FBI calls Sonny out of the bank to talk to his mother, who unsuccessfully tries to persuade him to give himself up. Back inside, Sonny writes out his will, leaving money from his life insurance to Leon for her surgery and to Angie.
When the requested limousine arrives, Sonny checks for hidden weapons or booby traps, and selects Agent Murphy to drive himself, Sal, and the remaining hostages to Kennedy Airport. Sonny sits in the front beside Murphy with Sal behind. Murphy repeatedly asks Sal to point his gun at the roof so Sal won't accidentally shoot him.
As they wait on the airport tarmac for the plane to taxi into position, Sal releases another hostage, who gives him her rosary beads for his first plane trip. Murphy again reminds Sal to aim his gun away. Sal does, and Sheldon seizes Sonny's weapon, allowing Murphy to pull a revolver hidden in his armrest and shoot Sal in the head. Sonny is immediately arrested, and the hostages are freed.
The film ends as Sonny watches Sal's body being taken from the car on a stretcher. Subtitles reveal that Sonny was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Angie and her children subsisted on welfare, and Leon, who changed her name to Elizabeth, had the surgery.
The LIFE article described Wojtowicz as "a dark, thin fellow with the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman". Hoffman was later offered the role when Pacino briefly quit the production. An 18-year-old actor was originally to be cast in the role of Sal to match the age of the actual Salvatore. The table below summarizes the main cast of Dog Day Afternoon.
|Character||Actor||Role||Similar person from Life article|
|Sonny Wortzik||Al Pacino||Bank robber||John Wojtowicz|
|Salvatore "Sal" Naturale||John Cazale||Sonny's partner in the robbery||Salvatore "Sal" Naturale|
|Sergeant Eugene Moretti||Charles Durning||Police Sergeant who originally negotiates with Sonny||NYPD Police Chief of Detectives Louis C. Cottell|
|Agent Sheldon||James Broderick||FBI agent who replaces Moretti in negotiations||Agent Richard Baker|
|Agent Murphy||Lance Henriksen||FBI agent/driver||Agent Murphy|
|Leon Shermer||Chris Sarandon||Sonny's pre-operative transgender wife||Elizabeth Eden|
|Sylvia "Mouth"||Penelope Allen||Head teller||Shirley "Mouth" Ball|
|Mulvaney||Sully Boyar||Bank manager||Robert Barrett|
|Angela "Angie" Wortzik||Susan Peretz||Sonny's ex-wife||Carmen "Mouth" Bifulco|
|Jenny "The Squirrel"||Carol Kane||Bank teller|
|Margaret||Beulah Garrick||Bank teller|
|Deborah||Sandra Kazan||Bank teller|
|Edna||Estelle Omens||Bank teller||Josephine Tuttino|
|Miriam||Marcia Jean Kurtz||Bank teller|
|Maria||Amy Levitt||Bank teller||Kathleen Amore|
|Stevie||Gary Springer||Bank robber||Robert Westenberg|
|Howard Calvin||John Marriott||Unarmed bank guard||Calvin Jones|
|Doctor||Philip Charles MacKenzie||Doctor who treats Mulvaney||Doctor|
|Phone cop||Floyd Levine|
|Limo driver||Dick Anthony Williams|
|Sonny's father||Dominic Chianese|
|Sonny's mother||Judith Malina||Theresa Basso-Wojtowicz|
|TV anchorman||William Bogert|
|TV reporter||Ron Cummins|
|Sam||Jay Gerber||Insurance salesman from across the street||Joe Anterio|
|Maria's boyfriend||Edwin "Chu Chu" Malave|
|Pizza boy||Lionel Pina|
The film is based on the story of John Wojtowicz. It adheres to the basic facts of what happened, according to a LIFE article published on September 22, 1972, entitled "The Boys in the Bank". Wojtowicz, along with Sal Naturale, held up a Chase Manhattan Bank branch in Gravesend, Brooklyn, on August 22, 1972.
After being apprehended, Wojtowicz was convicted in court and sentenced to 20 years in prison, of which he served six.
Wojtowicz wrote a letter to The New York Times in 1975 claiming that the events of the film were "only 30% true." Some of Wojtowicz's objections to the film's accuracy included the portrayal of his ex-wife, whose real name was Carmen Bifulco, the conversation with his mother and the refusal of police to let him speak to Carmen (Angie). He did, however, praise Al Pacino and Chris Sarandon's portrayals of himself and Elizabeth Eden.  Also, although Sal was 18 years old at the time of the robbery, he is portrayed in the film by then 39-year-old John Cazale.
The film shows Sonny making out a will to give Elizabeth his life insurance so that if Sonny were killed, she might still be able to pay for the operation. The real-life Wojtowicz was paid $7,500 ($38,100 today) plus 1% of the film's net profit for the rights to his story, from which he gave to Eden enough to pay for her sexual reassignment surgery. She died of complications from AIDS in Genesee Hospital, in Rochester, New York, in 1987. Wojtowicz died of cancer in January 2006.
The original inspiration for the film was an article written by P. F. Kluge and Thomas Moore for LIFE in September 1972. The article included many of the details later used in the film and noted the relationship which Wojtowicz and Naturale developed with hostages and the police. Bank manager Robert Barrett said, "I'm supposed to hate you guys [Wojtowicz/Naturale], but I've had more laughs tonight than I've had in weeks. We had a kind of camaraderie." Teller Shirley Ball said, "[I]f they had been my houseguests on a Saturday night, it would have been hilarious." The novelization of the film was penned by organized crime writer Leslie Waller.
The film has no musical score other than three songs, which are diegetic: during the opening credits, Sonny, Sal, and Stevie are listening in their car to "Amoreena" by Elton John (which first appeared on his 1970 album Tumbleweed Connection); during scenes inside the bank, the Faces song "Stay with Me" and "Easy Livin" by Uriah Heep both briefly play on the radio. Although many scenes within the bank establish the temperature was quite hot during the robbery, some outdoor sequences were shot in weather cool enough that actors had to put ice in their mouths to stop their breath from showing on camera. Exterior shots were filmed on location on Prospect Park West between 17th and 18th Street in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. The interior shots of the bank were filmed in a set created in a warehouse.
Though the actors kept to the basic text of the script as written by Frank Pierson, director Lumet encouraged them to improvise and workshop scenes to create more natural dialogue. Changes made through this process included Cazale's memorable reply when asked what country he'd like to go to ("Wyoming"), and Durning and Pacino's aggressive dialogue after shots are fired within the bank.
Although Dog Day Afternoon was released nationally in 1975, it is based on events that took place in Brooklyn three years earlier, in August 1972. During this era of strong opposition to the Vietnam War, "anti-establishment" Sonny repeats the counter-cultural war cry, "Attica!", in reference to the Attica Prison riot of September 1971.
Upon its release, Dog Day Afternoon received largely positive reviews. The film holds a 95% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Vincent Canby called it "Sidney Lumet's most accurate, most flamboyant New York movie" and praised the "brilliant characterizations" by the entire cast. Roger Ebert called Sonny "one of the most interesting modern movie characters" and gave the movie three-and-a-half stars out of four. He would later add this film to his list of The Great Movies. Gene Siskel awarded four stars out of four, calling it a "superb" film with a performance by Pacino that "made me believe the unbelievable." He placed it fourth on his year-end list of the best films of 1975. Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "a triumphant new classic of American movie naturalism." Penelope Gilliatt of The New Yorker wrote, "Though the farcical tone of the movie is blusterous, falling into the common show-biz habit of supplying energy in place of intent, the movie succeeds, on the whole, because it has the crucial farcical value of not faltering."
The film has continued to generate a positive critical reception. For example, Christopher Null wrote in 2006 that the film "captures perfectly the zeitgeist of the early 1970s, a time when optimism was scraping rock bottom and John Wojtowicz was as good a hero as we could come up with".
P.F. Kluge, coauthor of the LIFE Magazine article that inspired the film, believed the filmmakers "stayed with the surface of a lively journalistic story" and that the film had a "strong, fast-paced story" without "reflection" or "a contemplative view of life".
Dog Day Afternoon ranks 443rd on Empire's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. Vrij Nederland named the bank robbery scene the third best bank robbery in film history, behind Raising Arizona (1987) and Heat (1995).
- Best Picture (Martin Bregman and Martin Elfand)
- Best Director (Sidney Lumet)
- Best Actor in a Leading Role (Al Pacino)
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Chris Sarandon)
- Best Film Editing (Dede Allen)
- Best Motion Picture – Drama
- Best Director – Motion Picture (Sidney Lumet)
- Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama (Al Pacino)
- Best Screenplay – Motion Picture (Frank Pierson)
- Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture (Charles Durning)
- Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture (John Cazale)
- Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture – Male (Chris Sarandon)
The film won other awards, including an NBR Award for Best Supporting Actor (Charles Durning) and a Writers Guild Award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen (Frank Pierson) as well as the British Academy Award for Best Actor (Al Pacino). The film is #70 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills list. Also Al Pacino's quote, "Attica! Attica!" placed at #86 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes. It was nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies in 1998 and 2007. In 2006, Premiere magazine issued its "100 Greatest Performances of All Time", citing Pacino's performance as Sonny as the fourth-greatest ever. In 2012, the Motion Picture Editors Guild listed the film as the 20th-best edited film of all time based on a survey of its membership.
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Today Dog Day Afternoon is an unabashed classic, a template by which other movies are based and a formula which is periodically tweaked and refined. There are few things you can complain about in Dog Day -- a second act that relies on a few too many variations of the same "the cops are scheming" bit, and that's about it. But Pacino's fiery performance and Sidney Lumet's perfect direction does more than create a great crime movie. It captures perfectly the zeitgeist of the early 1970s, a time when optimism was scraping rock bottom and John Wojtowicz was as good a hero as we could come up with.
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- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Archived September 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
- "100 Greatest Movie Performances of All Time". Premiere Magazine. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
- "The 75 Best Edited Films". Editors Guild Magazine. 1 (3). May 2012. Archived from the original on March 17, 2015. Retrieved April 19, 2017.