Sometimes I wonder what happened to the Al Pacino of the 70s. Back then, he could offer up a character like the calm, cool Michael Corleone of the first two “Godfather” movies and then switch to the wild-eyed, barely-in-control Sonny of “Dog Day Afternoon.” Now he’s like a caricature of himself. He’s still a great actor, but he seems to play every role with that same gravelly voice and deadpan look. What happened to his range?
Unfortunately, I think he’ll be remembered for his “Godfather” role more than this one, which is a shame because Sonny is just as interesting. He and two buddies step into a Brooklyn bank one hot August day with the intent of robbing it. The comical complications start as soon as the hold-up does, with one of his friends getting nervous and deciding to leave. Sonny makes sure he gets the car keys before the guy exits, of course, one of many moments in the film where you wonder how he even gets himself dressed in the morning.
His other friend, Sal, sticks around, helping him round up the tellers, the manager and the security guard. Unfortunately, there’s hardly any money in the vault, and Sonny lingers so long that the police show up. He and Sal have several hostages as leverage, however, and Sonny pushes the situation to the hilt as he makes a series of ever-escalating demands. Soon we learn why he went into that bank in the first place, but we know it’s going to end badly. How could it not?
“Dog Day Afternoon” might have won only one of the six Oscars it was up for (Frank Pierson’s intense script), but it’s still worth revisiting in an era where we see few films of its type anymore. Given the limited number of locations, it’s almost like a stage play, and like any great stage production, it’s a brilliant character study full of classic moments. Who can forget the “Attica scene”? And given all the fuss right now over “that gay cowboy movie,” we shouldn’t forget that this was one of the first prominent films to address homosexuality in a realistic way, rather than turning the characters into stereotypes.
Warner Bros. has revisited the film with a two-disc Special Edition that includes a commentary by director Sidney Lumet, as well as the theatrical trailer, on disc one. Lumet’s track is a screen-specific one that retreads some of the territory found on disc two, but it’s still a worthwhile listen for fans of the film. There’s dead air in spots, along with a little of the usual “Here’s Al Pacino sitting in the car, with John Cazale behind him” kind of stuff we always hear on commentaries, but not much of it. It’s mostly good stuff.
The centerpiece of disc two is “The Making of Dog Day Afternoon,” a documentary that lasts just under an hour. It features plenty of present-day comments from Lumet, Pierson, producer Martin Bregman and the principal cast members who are still alive. Like any good documentary, it covers the basics: the genesis of the story, the writing of the script, casting, filming challenges, the movie’s impact upon release, and so forth. It was written, directed and produced by Laurent Bouzereau, who’s well-known as the creator of many fine movie documentaries.
Disc two also includes the vintage micro-featurette “Lumet: Film Maker,” which puts the focus on a director who, like Stanley Kubrick, was oft-nominated for directing Oscars but never won. (He did get a well-deserved honorary award in 2005, however.) It’s only 10 minutes long, but it offers some nice insight into the high regard he was held in during the 70s, when he made a string of successful films. Of course, film buffs still hold him in high regard today, but I don’t think most typical moviegoers even know who he is, unfortunately.
Many of today’s younger moviegoers have probably never heard of “Dog Day Afternoon,” either. Here’s their chance to discover it.