Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Dog Day Afternoon

Back in January when TCM ran a night of "true crime" movies, one that I recorded was Dog Day Afternoon. It's out on DVD, so I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a series of images of New York that show what could be any late summer day in the city, circa 1972. Eventually, we get to three guys in a car outside a local bank branch just before closing time: Sonny (Al Pacino), Sal (John Cazale), and Stevie (Gary Springer). They look like they're casing the joint. Eventually, the three go in, and Sal sits down with bank manager Mulvaney (Sully Boyar, an actor I'd never heard of), and pulls out a gun. Oh, they're going to rob the place all right. Sonny also pulls out his gun and demands the tellers give them the money and open the vault.

But things quickly go wrong. First, Stevie gets cold feet and decides he's not going to shoot anybody, so he flees the scene! Then, Mulvaney points out that they already had a pickup of money earlier in the day, so that there's only a couple thousand dollars maximum in the bank. They're not going to get anywhere near what they hoped. And then the phone rings. It's police detective Moretti (Charles Durning), informing sonny that the police have the bank surrounded, and there's no way for the robbers to get out.

So, Sunny decides that he's going to hold the bank employees hostage to try to get some concessions out of the police, which ultimately means a hoped-for plane to somewhere out of the country. But as the negotiation is going on, things get ever more complicated as a crowd forms just on the other side of the police barricades (reminiscent of Fourteen Hours). And then we learn just why Sonny decided to rob the bank. Although he has a legal wife, he's also got a gay lover in Leon (Chris Sarandon). They had a "gay wedding", back in the days when there was no way two gays could legally marry each other. Well, maybe there was one way, which would be if one of them got a sex-change operation. Leon needs the money for that.

Dog Day Afternoon, as a true crime movie, is supposed to be straight up drama. And for the most part, there a lot of good dramatic plot elements. But the movie also has a very surprisingly level of dark comedy throughout. It starts early enough and innocently enough with Stevie fleeing because he doesn't want to shoot anybody, and slowly escalates with absurd moments like one of the tellers' husbands calling to find out if he's going to have to make dinner for himself. Meanwhile, the bank employees are beginning to develop a Stockholm syndrome-type bond with their captors, at times bickering among themselves and making demands of the captors. You can't lock us in the vault! How are we going to go to the bathroom?

Dog Day Afternoon is a wonderful movie thanks both to the intelligent script, and the excellent acting from much of the cast. Pacino, understandably, leads the way. Cazale does a great job playing dim-witted, and Durning makes a really good detective trying to manage the situation, at least until the FBI gets there and makes life more difficult for everybody. But the smaller characters come across as realistically drawn, too.

Dog Day Afternoon is a movie that I can highly recommend.

1 comment:

Wendell Ottley said...

It's a fantastic movie. I rewatched this recently and I was still completely drawn in by it. And, as you say, Pacino leads the way, and does an excellent job of it.