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Dog Day Afternoon is a 1975 American crime drama film directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Frank Pierson. The film stars Al Pacino, John Cazale, Chris Sarandon, James Broderick, and Charles Durning. Based on the events of a bank robbery that took place on August 22, 1972, Dog Day Afternoon tells the story of John "Sonny" Wortzik, who, with his partner Salvatore Naturile, holds the employees of a Brooklyn, New Yorkmarker bank hostage. The title refers to the "dog days of summer".

The film was inspired by P.F. Kluge's article "The Boys in the Bank", which tells a similar story of the robbery of a Brooklyn bank by John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturile. This article was published in Life in 1972. The film received generally positive reviews upon its September 1975 release by Warner Bros. Pictures, some of which referred to its anti-establishment tone. Dog Day Afternoon was nominated for several Academy Awards and Golden Globe awards, and won one Academy Award.

Plot

First-time crook Sonny Wortzik (Pacino), his friend Sal (Cazale), and a second accomplice attempt to rob a bank. The plan immediately goes awry when the second accomplice loses his nerve shortly after Sal pulls out his gun, and Sonny is forced to let him flee the scene. In the vault, Sonny discovers that he and Sal have just missed the daily cash pickup, and only $1,100.00 in cash remains in the bank. To compensate, Sonny takes a number of traveler's checks, but his attempt to prevent the checks from being traced by burning the bank's register in a trash can causes smoke to billow out the side of the building, alerting the business across the street to suspicious activities. Within minutes, the building is surrounded by the police. Unsure what to do, the two robbers camp out in the bank, holding all the workers hostage.

Detective Moretti (Durning) calls the bank to tell Sonny that the police have arrived. Sonny warns that he and Sal have hostages and will kill them if anyone tries to come into the bank. Detective Moretti acts as hostage negotiator, while FBImarker Agent Sheldon monitors his actions. Howard, the security guard, has an asthma attack, so Sonny releases him when Moretti asks for a hostage as a sign of good faith. Moretti convinces Sonny to step outside the bank to see how aggressive the police forces are. Sonny invokes the recent Attica Prison riotmarker in which 39 people were killed, and the civilian crowd starts cheering for Sonny.

After realizing they cannot make a simple getaway, Sonny demands that a helicopter be landed on the roof to fly him and Sal out of the country. When they're informed that the roof of the bank is not sturdy enough to support a helicopter, Sonny demands that a vehicle drive him and Sal to an airport so that they can board a jet. He also demands pizzas for the hostages (which are delivered to the scene) and that his wife be brought to the bank. When Sonny's wife, Leon Schermer (a transwoman) arrives, he reveals to the crowd and officials one of Sonny's reasons for robbing the bank is to pay for Leon's sex reassignment surgery, and that Sonny also has a legal wife, Angie, and children.

As night sets in, the lights in the bank all shut off. Sonny goes outside again and discovers that Agent Sheldon has taken command of the scene. He refuses to give Sonny any more favors, but when the bank manager Mulvaney goes into a diabetic shock, Agent Sheldon lets a doctor through. While the doctor is inside the bank, Sheldon convinces Leon to talk to Sonny on the phone. The two have a lengthy conversation that reveals Leon had attempted suicide to "get away from" Sonny. He had been hospitalized at the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospitalmarker until the police brought him to the scene. Leon turns down Sonny's offer to join him and Sal to wherever they take the plane. Sonny tells police listening to the phone call that Leon had nothing to do with the robbery attempt.

After the phone call, the doctor asks Sonny to let Mulvaney leave and Sonny agrees. Mulvaney refuses, instead insisting he remain with his employees. The FBI calls Sonny out of the bank again. They have brought his mother to the scene. She unsuccessfully tries to persuade him to give himself up and Agent Sheldon signals that a limousine will arrive in ten minutes to take them to a waiting jet. Once back inside the bank, Sonny writes out his will, leaving money from his life insurance to Leon for his sex change and to his wife Angie.

When the limousine arrives, Sonny checks it for any hidden weapons or booby traps. When he decides the car is satisfactory, he settles on Agent Murphy to drive Sal, the remaining hostages and him to Kennedy Airportmarker. Sonny sits in the front next to Murphy while Sal sits behind them. 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, Agent Sheldon forces Sonny's weapon onto the dashboard, creating a distraction which allows Murphy to pull a pistol hidden in his armrest and shoot Sal in the head. Sonny is immediately arrested and the hostages are all escorted to the terminal. The film ends with Sonny watching 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 had sexual reassignment surgery.

Historical event

The location of the actual event, 450 Avenue P, Brooklyn NY (1975 photo)
The movie was based on the story of John Wojtowicz and adheres to the basic facts of what happened, according to the Life article "The Boys in the Bank". According to the article, Wojtowicz, along with Sal Naturile, held up a Chase Manhattan Bank branch in Brooklyn, New York on August 22, 1972.

After being apprehended, Wojtowicz was convicted in court and sentenced to twenty years in prison, of which he served fourteen.

Wojtowicz wrote a letter to The New York Times in 1975 out of concern that people would believe the version of the events portrayed in the film, which he said was "only 30% true". Some of Wojtowicz's objections included the portrayal of his wife Carmen Bifulco, the conversation with his mother that Wojtowicz claimed never happened, and the refusal of police to let him speak to his wife Carmen (unlike what was portrayed in the film). He did, however, praise Al Pacino and Chris Sarandon's portrayals of him and his boyfriend Ernest Aron as accurate. Also, Sal was 18 years old, yet is played in Dog Day Afternoon by a 39-year-old.

The film shows Sonny making out a will to give Leon his life insurance. Even if Sonny should be killed, Leon might still be able to pay for the operation. The real-life Wojtowicz was paid $7,500 plus 1% of the film's net profits for the rights to his story, $2,500 of which he gave to Ernest Aron to pay for her sexual reassignment surgery. Aron became Elizabeth Debbie Eden and lived out the rest of her days in New Yorkmarker. She died of complications from AIDS in Rochestermarker in 1987. Wojtowicz himself died of cancer in January 2006.

The bank where the robbery took place was a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank, at Avenue P in Brooklyn, at the cross street of East 3rd Street, in Gravesend Brooklynmarker.

Production

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 Naturile developed with hostages and the police. Bank manager Robert Barrett said, "I'm supposed to hate you guys [Wojtowicz/Naturile], but I've had more laughs tonight than I've had in weeks. We had a kind of camaraderie." Teller Shirley Bell 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 the Elton John song "Amoreena" (which first appeared on John's 1970 album Tumbleweed Connection) in the opening credits, as well as the Uriah Heep song "Easy Living" which briefly plays on the radio during a scene inside the bank. Although many scenes within the bank establish that it was quite hot during the robbery, some outdoor sequences were shot in weather so cold 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 Terracemarker of Brooklyn. The interior shots of the bank were filmed in a set created in a warehouse.

Cast

The Life article described Wojtowicz as "a dark, thin fellow with the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman". Hoffman would later be 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" Naturile John Cazale Sonny's partner in the robbery Salvatore Naturile
Detective Sgt. Eugene Moretti Charles Durning Police detective who originally negotiates with Sonny James McGowan[15022]
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 preoperative transsexual wife Ernest Aron
Sylvia "The Mouth" Penelope Allen Head teller Shirley Bell (Wojtowicz also called her "The Mouth")
Mulvaney Sully Boyar Bank manager Robert Barrett
Angie Susan Peretz Sonny's estranged divorced wife Carmen Bifulco
Jenny "The Squirrel" Carol Kane Bank teller
Stevie Gary Springer Robert Westenberg Robert left soon after John and Salvatore held up the bank
Howard Calvin John Marriott Unarmed bank guard Calvin Jones


Response

Dog Day Afternoon, although the film that was released nationally in 1975, it is based on events that took place in Brooklyn three years earlier, in 1972. During this era of thick and extremely heavy opposition to the Vietnam war, "anti-establishment" Sonny repeatedly reminds people he is a Vietnam veteran and repeats the counter-cultural war cry of "Attica!marker" in reference to the Attica Prison riotsmarker.

Critical reactions

Upon its release, Dog Day Afternoon received generally favorable reviews. 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. As time has passed, the film continues to generate a positive critical reception. For example, Christopher Null has said that the film "captures perfectly the zeitgeist of the early 1970s, a time when optimism was scraping rock bottom" and that "John Wojtowicz was as good a hero as we could come up with". P.F. Kluge, author of the article that inspired the film, believed that 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 also ranks 443rd on Empire magazine'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 bank robbery scenes from Raising Arizona (1987) and Heat (1995).

Awards and honors

Dog Day Afternoon won the Academy Award for Writing - Original Screenplay (Frank Pierson) and was nominated for other Oscars: The film was also nominated for the following seven Golden Globes, winning none:

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 also #70 on AFI's "100 Years... 100 Thrills" list. In 2006, Premiere magazine issued its "100 Greatest Performances of All Time", citing Pacino's performance as Sonny as the 4th greatest ever.

Notes

  1. "The Boys in the Bank" by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore for Life, September 22, 1972, Vol. 73(12).
  2. Real Dog Day hero tells his story by John Wojtowicz from Jump Cut, no. 15, 1977, pp. 31–32. Retrieved March 13, 2007
  3. Trivia from Dog Day Afternoon for IMDb. Retrieved April 24, 2006.
  4. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072890/soundtrack
  5. The bank and street from Dog Day Afternoon for Mark Allen Cam by Mark Allen on February 20, 2006. Retrieved April 28, 2006.
  6. Lumet, Sidney. Dog Day Afternoon, feature commentary
  7. Full Credits for Dog Day Afternoon from IMDb. Retrieved April 27, 2006.
  8. 10 Best Heist Movies Ever for Movie Magic. Retrieved April 28, 2006.
  9. Screen: Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon by Vincent Camby for The New York Times on September 22, 1975. Retrieved June 3, 2006.
  10. Dog Day Afternoon by Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times on January 1, 1975. Retrieved June 3, 2006.
  11. Dog Day Afternoon Reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, quote by Christopher Null. Retrieved April 28, 2006.
  12. Awards for Dog Day Afternoon for IMDb. Retrieved April 24, 2006.
  13. 100 Years...100 Thrills for the AFI on June 13, 2001. Retrieved May 9, 2006.


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