Dog Day Afternoon


They don’t make bank robbers like they used to….

Happy Friday, gang! Alas, Chris Flanagan’s duties have taken him elsewhere this weekend, so you are burdened with me for today’s Weekend Buff.

This weekend we revisit a classic from my childhood… the Sydney Lumet film, Dog Day Afternoon (1975).

DOG DAY AFTERNOON / THE DOG - Tickets & Showtimes Near You | Fandango

Your humble narrator not only recalls this movie, but the true event it was based on. In short: on an extremely hot Brooklyn summer day, a pair of bumbling, low-level criminals decide to rob a bank. Bad idea fellas.

What ensues is a movie about the battle of wills between desperate perps, only slighly less-desperate cops, exhausted hostages, a non-functioning air conditioning system… and an immersive snapshot of New York in the 1970’s (which for some reason, was a setting that made for great movies).

Nobody does New York like Sydney Lumet — the guy’s circulatory system must’ve looked like our subway map. As ever, he captures his home town accurately. In this portrait of a hostage situation stretched to the breaking point, the director nails the increasing tension of a group of disparate New Yorkers confined together in sweltering, interminable conditions. You’ll be riveted — even as you start to feel like one of the hostages yourself.

As the movie goes on, the heat and sweaty conditions themselves emerge as principal characters. When bank robber Al Pacino tells the bank manager, “You know, you’re starting to get on my nerves” — we believe him. And concur.

The sheer wackiness of New York back then is a character as well. It was a different town — less predictable, less policed, more colorful, more unknowable. All that forms the film’s back story. It’s a town where anything could happen.

The performances are uniformly excellent. Who (unavoidably) steals the show is Pacino’s Sonny — an early gay character for whom being gay is not a principal attribute. He’s all bug-eyed exasperation and wired tension, saddled with cranky hostages, a caper-gone-bad, and a partner who thinks Wyoming is a foreign country (the always-solid John Cazale — Meryl Streep’s former husband). Charles Durning as the NYPD hostage negotiator is also a disheveled standout.

Your narrator was involved in several hostage situations over the years (I was not, however, an actual hostage negotiator, which is a unique skill set). They’re an emotional rollercoaster. The NYPD can boast the nation’s first dedicated Hostage Negotiation Team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the events in this film spurred it. Dog Day Afternoon captures, like no other movie, the battle of wills and patience that is a hostage negotiation.

And I forgot to mention: the movie is often quite funny.

Dog Day Afternoon is available on Amazon Prime for $2.99. Cheaper than a Starbucks latte, and far more satisfying.

(And btw: there is a fascinating, bizarre documentary about the same event: “The Dog,” starring the real-life “Sonny,” John Wojtowitz. It’s also available on Prime, for $3.99. The trailer is available here).



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