“Dog Day Afternoon” is a 1975 American crime drama film based on a true story of a bank robbery. Set in Brooklyn, New York City, it depicts a tragicomedy of a duo of amateur criminals who conspire to rob a bank, but fail to escape and are forced to hold hostages at the bank. It was directed by Sidney Lumet, and was produced by Martin Bregman and Martin Elfand. The screenplay was written by Frank Pierson. The film stars Al Pacino, John Cazale, James Broderick, and Charles Durning. 125 minutes.
The film was inspired by the “Life” magazine article “The Boys in the Bank” (1972) by P. F. Kluge and Thomas Moore. The article was about a bank robbery which actually happened in a Chase Manhattan branch in Brooklyn in August 1972.
In 1972, a Vietnam veteran John Wojtowicz planned to rob a bank. He had experience working as a bank teller in the mid-1960s.
Though he had two children with his first wife Carmen Bifulco, he separated from her in 1969, and married Elizabeth Eden (born Ernest Aron), who was a man with gender identity disorder, in 1971.
One of his motivations for conspiring to rob a bank was his desire to get money for Eden to have a sex reassignment surgery.
On August 22, 1972, 27-year-old Wojtowicz tried to rob a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank in Gravesend, Brooklyn along with 18-year-old Salvatore Naturile and 20-year-old Robert Westenberg.
Though Westenberg fled the scene immediately, Wojtowicz and Naturile held eight hostages (the bank manager and seven female employees) at the bank for 14 hours.
The screenplay of the film “Dog Day Afternoon” is based on this true story.
The title derives from “dog days”, which means the hottest days of summer.
In the film, Al Pacino, who had starred in Lumet’s “Serpico” (1973), played the role of the main culprit Sonny Wortzik, and John Cazale, who had acted with Pacino in “The Godfather” (1972), played the role of Sonny’s accomplice, Salvatore “Sal” Naturile. Much of the cast consisted of actors Pacino performed with in Off-Broadway plays.
“Dog Day Afternoon” is a crime film that includes tense drama in an extreme situation of a hostage crisis and the element of black comedy. It is characterized by its believable plot based on a true story, realistic production like news footage, and natural acting with improvised performances.
The film is also worth noting that it dealt with then-new subjects, such as transgender and Stockholm syndrome.
Elton John’s song “Amoreena” from his album “Tumbleweed Connection” (1970) was used in the opening scenes. Uriah Heep’s “Easy Livin'” (1972) and the Faces’ “Stay with Me” (1971) were used as songs heard on radio. These are the only pieces of music in the entire film.
In the 48th Academy Awards, “Dog Day Afternoon” was nominated for six awards, and Pierson won Best Original Screenplay. It was also nominated for six awards in the 29th British Academy Film Awards, and Pacino won Best Actor in a Leading Role and Dede Allen won Best Editing.
In 2009, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Plot (Spoiler Alert)
One day in mid-summer, Sonny (Al Pacino), Sal (John Cazale), and Stevie try to rob the First Brooklyn Savings Bank. Sonny makes Stevie flee the scene because he says he can’t shoot a gun.
There are nine people within the bank: the bank manager Mulvaney, the guard Howard, and seven female employees.
Sonny and Sal make Mulvaney open the vault, threatening the people with guns, but they find only $1,100 in cash.
Sonny orders tellers to collect $1,100 and some bills and traveler’s checks on the teller window in his bag.
Sonny receives a phone call from Detective Sergeant Eugene Moretti (Charles Durning) of Police Department City of New York, and Sonny and Sal find that the bank is surrounded by police.
Sonny and Sal are forced to hold nine hostages at the bank. The head teller accuses Sonny of robbing the bank without a plan.
Sonny makes Mulvaney work with him in blocking the back entrance of the bank, telling Mulvaney that cops killed forty-two people in the Attica Prison riot (1971).
FBI Agent Sheldon (James Broderick) arrives on the scene and starts taking command.
A crowd of spectators and newspaper/TV reporters are collecting around the bank.
Sonny releases the guard Howard, who had an asthma attack.
Sonny negotiates with Moretti in front of the bank under the gaze of the crowd. Sonny shouts “Attica! Attica!” to fuel opposition to the police by reminding the crowd of the Attica Prison riot. The crowd begins cheering for Sonny.
Sonny talks to Sal about making a deal with the FBI, but Sal says that he won’t go back to prison, reminding Sonny that Sonny said either they get away or they kill themselves.
Sonny demands a helicopter and a jet plane to flee the country. He also demands a meeting with his wife.
Moretti tells Sonny that a bus is coming instead of heli and they get a jet at Kennedy Airport.
Sonny demands some pizzas and drinks. A young man delivers pizzas to Sonny, and he shouts “I’m a fucking star!” Sonny scatters five-dollar bills on the street, and the crowd becomes out of control, scrambling for bills.
Female employees start friendly conversations with Sonny and Sal with their guard down after understanding that Sonny doesn’t mean to hurt his hostages. The robbers and the hostages gradually build a familiar relationship.
A 26-year-old man with gender identity disorder, Leon Shermer (Chris Sarandon) is taken to the scene. Leon is Sonny’s wife, and she has been in Bellevue Hospital after making a suicide attempt.
The media report that Sonny tried to rob a bank to get money for his wife Leon to have a sex reassignment surgery.
At night, Sheldon turns off the lights and the air conditioner within the bank.
Mulvaney faints away. He has diabetes. Sonny calls a doctor. Sheldon lets a doctor inside.
Sonny talks to Leon on the telephone. Sonny invites Leon to escape with him to another country, but Leon says that she will go back to the hospital.
Sonny calls another of his wives Angie on the phone, but he hangs up because Angie talks at him the whole time.
Demonstrators of the gay community appear and cheer for Sonny.
Sheldon makes Sonny’s mother talk with Sonny, and he tries to persuade Sonny to surrender, but Sonny tells his mother to go home.
Sonny makes the head teller take dictation of his testament to his two wifes, two children and mother.
An airport limousine arrives at the bank. Sonny and Sal get on the limousine along with hostages. FBI Agent Murphy drives the limousine.
The limousine arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Sonny releases one of the hostages. Murphy kills Sal with a gunshot to the head while he is distracted. Sonny is arrested.