Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon (1975)


(director: Sidney Lumet; screenwriter: Frank R. Pierson/from the article by P.F. Kluge & Thomas Moore; cinematographer: Victor J. Kemper; editor: Dede Allen; cast: Al Pacino (Sonny), John Cazale (Sal), Sully Boyar (Bank Manager Mulvaney), Penelope Allen (Sylvia), Beulah Garrick (Margaret), Carol Kane (Jenny), Charles Durning (N.Y. Detective Moretti), Chris Sarandon (Leon), James Broderick (FBI Agent Sheldon); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Martin Bregman/Martin Elfand ; Warner Brothers; 1975)

“Pacino gives an engaging performance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Sidney Lumet’s 1975 drama is based on a true 1972 story. Frank Pierson provides the screenplay. It is shot on location in NYC and chronicles a bungled bank robbery on a hot summer afternoon in New York City. It appears to be a metaphor for Attica, but fortunately the movie steers clear of its more ambitious aims and satisfies with the details of its smaller and less pretentious aims. In real life, Al Pacino’s character, Sonny Wortzik, was serving a 20-year federal prison sentence while the film was being made. “Dog Day Afternoon” picked up several Academy Award nominations in 1975 for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and was awarded Best Original Screenplay. Pacino gives an engaging performance, charming the audience into taking sides with him as he shows off his wry streetwise humor and bluster before revealing in The Crying Game mode his homosexuality. Lumet does a nice job in catching the frenetic NYC mood and the pathos of his main character.The film is somewhat unique in that it lacks a musical score.

Anxiety-ridden loser Sonny (Al Pacino), a former bank employee, and two other of his cronies, his slow-witted buddy Sal (John Cazale) and another, burst into the First Savings Bank Brooklyn bank just before closing time for a routine heist. But everything goes wrong, as one of the men chickens out, with only Sal remaining with Sonny. The bank has almost no money in the vault–removed just prior to his arrival. Things then escalate as Sonny and Sal take hostages, and quickly there’s a heavy police presence surrounding the bank. A large crowd gathers picking up the anti-establishment vibes of the event and sympathizes with Sonny, as the heist turns into a media frenzy with the arrival of the press. Police Captain Moretti (Charles Durning) desperately tries to negotiate with Sonny in this circus-like atmosphere while trying to keep a lid on things. About half way into the film we find out Sonny’s real motivation for the robbery is to finance his lover Leon’s (Chris Sarandon) sex-change operation, as Leon appears and tries to talk him out of the bank. Even the hostages come on board with sympathy at this point. Sonny demands a plane to escape, but things get resolved only when FBI Agent Sheldon (James Broderick) arrives to take over the negotiations.

The value of the oddball film shot in a semi-documentary style is greatly enhanced because besides being highly entertaining, it was all true. It tapped into the feelings of the time and the crazy way New Yorkers can look at things by its shrewd social and psychological observations.