Entry #3 – Dog Day Afternoon (1975 – Sidney Lumet)
Running Time: 131 minutes
Main Cast: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, James Broderick and Chris Sarandon
Loosely based on a real life bank robbery that took place in the early seventies and brought to life by the late Sidney Lumet, the third entry in the 1,000 Films You Need to See is Dog Day Afternoon. This is the third film in the series from the 1970s.
The film stars Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik. Wortzik, needing money for his lover’s sex change operation, enters a bank a few minutes before closing time, with his accomplice Sal (Cazale). It was a simple robbery and Sonny knew all the ins and outs of the banking business, especially the details that had to do with tripping alarms. An easy job that should taken just a few minutes starts to go awry when the group’s third accomplice chickens out at the last minute. Furthermore, Sonny soon finds out that the bank had a scheduled pickup on this particular day, so they only stand to get away with about $1,100.00. Suddenly, the phone rings and the man on the other end tells Sonny that the police have the bank surrounded and there’s no way out. Sonny and Sal shuffle to figure out what to do next, as the hostages (including a group of women and the bank manager Mr. Mulvaney) sweat it out inside, on this hot, August afternoon. Eventually Sonny and the hostages become friendly, to the point that Sonny even teaches them army maneuvers with his gun, letting them hold it and practice. Sonny soon makes a list of demands to the cop in charge, Detective Moretti (Durning), that include a limo to take them all to the airport (hostages included) and a jet to take them out of the country.
To be honest, this was much better the first time I watched it – however many years ago that was. It seems like every time I watch Dog Day Afternoon, my opinion of it worsens. First of all, there’s no doubting the acting capabilities of Al Pacino, as he totally makes this film what it is and without him this could have been a disaster. I like how they weave in a little bit of comedy (my favorite line coming when Sonny picks up the phone and answers, “W-NEW, we play all the hits!”) and Pacino delivers them so well that looking back I wished this guy would have been given a legit chance to make a straight up comedy. I also thought Cazale and Durning did great jobs too, Cazale lingering in the background and forcing us to wonder about the real life Sal and if he really was that Lurch-looking. Durning is just as good too, bringing in the fire and having some intense back and forths with Pacino’s Sonny.
But, as time goes by in the film, it starts to get a little boring and that’s even hard for me to admit, but it’s true. In fact, this film would have prospered by being about a half hour shorter, as I think it would have served to keep the picture flowing and let’s be honest, there were definitely some scenes in there that could have been cut. Once you get past the initial bank holdup and the police arrival, we’re pretty much just sitting in a bank with a group of characters as the ring leader runs to the door every five minutes to chit chat with Moretti and yell things at the crowd that gathers (most notably, “ATTICA, ATTICA!!…”). Maybe because I’ve seen it so many times, I just do not feel it works anymore once you know the fate of the main characters. Although, I’ll admit, every single time I watch this, I still think Sonny and Sal are going to get out of the bank without being caught and I’ll be damned if they never do.
So that was written about two years ago and while I was a little bit hard on it, I have to admit that when compiling my personal list of 1,000 Films You Need to See, this is a must include. I think my main problem coming out of this particular review, was that it just wasn’t the blow away film that I remembered seeing the very first time, but then again, this is one where the first impression is going to be the best impression. Next time we continue to crank up the HEAT and finally get out of the seventies. See ‘ya then.