Each time I see these remastered and restored versions of older movies I get blown away by their quality. I mean, here’s a movie from 1975 and the picture is crystal clear, the colors are just right and the focus is spot on. The only thing that’s giving it away is the music. Dog Day Afternoon is a gripping hostage situation movie following a failed bank robbery and starring young Al Pacino. It’s based on surreal events that actually happened just three years earlier. It wastes absolutely no time as after just two minutes we’re inside the bank and the robbery starts.
There’s no boring introduction to our characters or anything like that. Wham, bam, this is a robbery! Any of you fucking pricks move, and I’ll execute every mother fucking last one of you! And from that first minute, things start going wrong for our trio of bank robbers. They will get progressively worse as time goes on. However, this is countered by this strange and almost bizarre humorous undertone. You kind of start rooting for our unlucky criminals as you start to get to know them better. And all the while you keep asking yourself did this really happen, what the actual fuck?
The movie develops characters simultaneously with the hostage situation, seamlessly blending the two together. You have to remember that these were the seventies and the anti-establishment movement was at an all-time high. Not only the Vietnam War was going horrifically wrong but you also had a slew of internal issues. Especially when it came to law enforcement. And I’m not just talking about the corruption and racism. Dog Day Afternoon also prominently mentions the 1971 Attica Prison Riot, featured in a haunting John Frankenheimer’s 1994 masterpiece Against The Wall.
Three men just exited their car in front of the First Brooklyn Savings Bank. It’s closing time so there aren’t many people around. Sonny, Sal, and Stevie slowly make their way into the bank, seemingly there to do some business before it closes. However, each of them is carrying a weapon and an intent to rob this bank. Sonny and Sal are Vietnam veterans and they know how to shoot and kill although this is their first real criminal attempt. Sal pulls out his submachine gun and the robbery is on…
From the moment Sonny awkwardly pulls out his M1 Carbine, the tension starts increasing. There will be a couple of breaks but then the final third will just fucking break you. Mostly because you know this is a true story and it’s already been so bizarre that anything can happen. To say that this is a movie just about a failed bank robbery and a subsequent hostage situation would be a mistake. Dog Day Afternoon explores several important issues that still plague our society after almost 50 years of “progress”. If you’re looking for a movie to surprise your friends, partner, or family, this one is just perfect.
And you keep remembering that this isn’t some “agenda” or a “narrative”, no, this really fucking happened. It pains me so much that I’m not able to go into details about what’s going to happen but I want you to have the same experience I did. Al Pacino was phenomenal as Sonny although I also loved John Cazale’s subdued and quite emotional performance. His character was so vulnerable that you couldn’t help but feel the need to help him. And then again, Sal is sporting a Smith & Wesson M76 submachine gun that’s not to be trifled with. Apart from these two, we’ll also have the pleasure of seeing young Lance Henriksen in action.
Dog Day Afternoon is probably among the first if not the first modern movie to feature a hostage situation. So, it’s interesting to watch how it influenced countless movies that came after it. Moreover, I wonder just how funny this movie will be in 20 or 30 years in regard to the police response. Apparently, that’s the only aspect of our society that has advanced. Although when I say the words: the cops are not so reckless today, they sound hilarious. You’ll know what I mean when you play the movie. Finally, I do have to mention a couple of deviations from the real story.
Sal, played by John Cazale who was 40, was just eighteen years old at the time of the robbery. Sonny’s wife was not overweight and wasn’t anything like her on-screen character. The police did not let him speak to her or his mother. Also, the relationship between him and Sal was that of friendship, and at no point did Sonny try to take advantage of him. Although it should be noted that Al Pacino who plays Sonny and Chris Sarandon who plays Eden were spot on with their characterizations. If you want to see Al give another stellar performance do check out another seventies classic based on true events, Serpico.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writers: Frank Pierson, P.F. Kluge, Thomas Moore
Cast: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Sully Boyar, Penelope Allen, Charles Durning, James Broderick, Chris Sarandon
Fun Facts: John Cazale improvised the answer to Al Pacino’s question about where he would like to fly. Pacino’s reaction is genuine. It’s also interesting that Cazale says in the movie that he doesn’t smoke and scorns Penelope Allen playing Sylvia for lighting up a cigarette. When asked why, he says he doesn’t want to die of cancer. In real life, Cazale was a chain smoker and died of lung cancer just three years after filming Dog Day Afternoon.