Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Dog Day Afternoon


Based on a true story, and apparently more accurate than most films that claim to be true. The center of attention, a sack of shit named John Wojtowicz, was still alive, and in fact made $7500 and 1% of the profits by selling his story. I believe, or anyway I hope, that could not happen today, as laws have been passed preventing assholes from profiting from their felonious deeds.

(What, you think I should like this fuckhead? Apparently a lot of people do, based on Al Pacino’s stunning performance. I call it a case of Stockholm Syndrome via cinema. He was a total loser, and he got his friend Sal killed. He could have been, should have been, charged with murder because of Sal’s death during the commission of a felony. But somehow he got off with twenty years. He served only five.)

It is the story of a bank robbery that goes wrong from the very first minutes, when the third man of the trio chickens out and just goes home. Sonny and his friend Sal are in the process of botching it even worse when he gets a phone call, asking him to look across the street. There is Charles Durning (turning in a great performance, as always) and a lot of cops staring right at him from the barber shop across the street. And we are off to the races. Soon every cop in the world is out there, pointing their guns, trigger happy. News vans arrive, helicopters, and about a thousand spectators. Today it would be much different, they would cordon off the whole neighborhood. Back then, not so much. Crowd control was almost non-existent. It’s all very dicey for Sonny, Sal, the diabetic bank manager, and the group of female tellers inside. (Who all came down with Stockholm Syndrome themselves, coming to like Sonny.)

They decide to ask for a limo to take them to the airport, and a jet to take them … where? Sal suggests Wyoming, and Sonny has to point out that Wyoming is a state, not a country. He decides on Algeria, though it’s clear he doesn’t have a clue where that is.

Then something comes out of left field. Sonny wants to speak to his “wife.” He is married, but he’s talking about his transexual wife, who he actually was “married” to, though not legally, of course. This was a bit of a shockeroo in 1973, when attitudes toward homosexuality had only started to evolve. The bank robbery is to pay for the sex change operation. (The $7500 actually did pay for it, and I’m happy for Ernest Aron/Elizabeth Debbie Eden, but they still should never have paid the asshole.)

It’s a great story, gritty and grippingly written by Frank Pierson and directed by Sidney Lumet. Pacino is dazzling, and poor old John Cazale, who in his short life seemed destined to play pitiful losers (who can forget Fredo Corleone?), is baffled and clueless as Sal. This is a classic from the most innovative decade of the American cinema.