Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

“I don’t wanna talk to some flunky pig trying to calm me, man.”

A married New Yorker (Al Pacino) hoping to pay for a sex-change operation for his male lover (Chris Sarandon) collaborates with a trigger-happy partner (John Cazale) to rob a bank; but when things go horribly wrong, they end up holding the entire staff hostage while a negotiating police captain (Charles Durning) manages increasingly circus-like crowds outside the bank.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Al Pacino Films
  • Carol Kane Films
  • Heists
  • Hostages
  • Media Spectacle
  • Sidney Lumet Films
  • Underdogs

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “black comedy based on a real-life incident” is “a big favorite of many fans and critics”, but he thinks “it smacks of ‘Wouldn’t this true story make a great movie!’ attitude” and that it “all rings false”. He further adds that “every unbearable moment when we laugh because the situation is so pathetic, every introduction of another offbeat character, every character expression seems calculated to elicit an audience response”, and he argues that Lumet’s “direction of the extras who make up the crowds outside the bank is surprisingly lame”, given that they “are obviously acting for our benefit”. While a couple of Peary’s points have merit (the crowds seem staged, and some of the “offbeat characters” are cliched), I happen to enjoy this flick a lot more than he does: the “based on real events” storyline is so consistently unpredictable and wacky that we can’t help getting caught up during the two-hours-plus running time, despite knowing that things won’t end well for the luckless would-be robbers.

Strong performances by Pacino, Cazale, Durning, and others ground the film, presenting us with a slate of real people deeply invested in a hideously gone-bad situation; they’re all simply trying to climb their way out intact and preserve lives. Pacino’s character is so genuinely on-edge that he cares more about pragmatics than his newfound fame, and remains refreshingly unfazed by having his sexuality publicly “outed” (though Cazale is predictably agitated by being mistakenly labeled on the news as one of two “homosexuals”). Sully Boyar and Penny Allen are excellent as protective bank employees watching out for their colleagues, and Sarandon’s Oscar-nominated supporting performance as the transgendered lover behind Pacino’s actions is memorable. Watch for a particularly ironic moment early on, as an African-American bank guard is unexpectedly released first and unleashes a flurry of movement to arrest him; some things haven’t changed.

Note: Fans of this flick will likely enjoy Spike Lee’s Inside Man (2006), also about a heist-gone-wrong.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Al Pacino as Sonny
  • Chris Sarandon as Leon
  • Sully Boyar as Mulvaney
  • Charles Durning as Moretti
  • John Cazale as Sal
  • Penny Allen as the no-nonsense head bank teller
  • Excellent use of authentic NY locales

Must See?
Yes, primarily for Pacino’s performance.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


2 thoughts on “Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

  1. A must – for Pacino’s performance, and as one of Lumet’s best films.

    Peary’s overall remarks on this film are unfortunate, indeed. Nowadays, we have so much access to information about films, that it’s not as easy to toss off a remark that a film “all rings false”. I rewatched this in its (really good) blu-ray release – then I also listened to the DVD commentary by the script writer Frank Pierson. Apparently what we see sticks rather close to the facts.

    This movie leaves me breathless for a number of reasons – and that’s mostly thanks to Lumet and his command of the material. This is the work of a director at the top of his game.

    The entire cast gives its all here. But Pacino is nothing short of brilliant.

    Being gay myself, I especially like the matter-of-fact way the gay focus was handled. I bought it all as real. I felt that way when I was 20 and saw the film on its release, and I still feel that way. That gives witness to Lumet’s sensitivity toward (what were then more) marginal people.

    As a side note: some years back, a good friend of mine had reason to run into the real Sonny (John Wojtowicz) occasionally during some of his ‘underground adventures’. He would tell me that ‘Sonny’ was on the creepy side.

  2. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A great crime drama with a host of memorable characters and performances, particularly Pacino and Chris Sarandon. A must see.

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