This film was inspired by P.F. Kluge's article "The Boys in the Bank", which tells a similar story of the robbery of a Brooklyn bank by John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturile. This article was published in Life in 1972. The film received generally positive reviews upon its September 1975 release by Warner Bros. Pictures, some of which referred to its anti-establishment tone. Dog Day Afternoon was nominated for several Academy Awards and Golden Globe awards, and won one Academy Award.
Detective Moretti calls the bank to tell Sonny that the police have arrived. Sonny warns that he and Sal have hostages and will kill them if anyone tries to come into the bank. Detective Moretti acts as hostage negotiator, while FBI Agent Sheldon monitors his actions. Howard, the security guard, has an asthma attack, so Sonny releases him when Moretti asks for a hostage as a sign of good faith. Moretti convinces Sonny to step outside the bank to see how aggressive the police forces are. After a moment, Sonny starts his now-famous "ATTICA!" chant, a reference to the recent Attica Prison riot in which 39 people were killed, and the civilian crowd starts cheering for Sonny.
After realizing they cannot make a simple getaway, Sonny demands transportation: a jet to take them out of the country. When a tactical team approaches the back door, he fires a shot to warn them off. Moretti tries to persuade Sonny that those police were a separate unit that he was not controlling. Later, Sonny incites the crowd by throwing money over the police barricades. Some overrun the barricade and a few are arrested. When Sonny's wife Leon Schermer (a transwoman) arrives, she reveals that Sonny is robbing the bank to pay for Leon's sex reassignment surgery and that Sonny also has a legal wife, Angie, and children.
As night sets in, the lights in the bank all shut off. Sonny goes outside again and discovers that Agent Sheldon has taken command of the scene. He refuses to give Sonny any more favors, but when hostage Mulvaney goes into a diabetic shock, Agent Sheldon lets a doctor through. While the doctor is inside the bank, Sheldon convinces Leon to talk to Sonny on the phone. The two have a lengthy conversation that reveals Leon had attempted suicide to "get away from" Sonny. She had been hospitalized at the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital until the police brought her to the scene. Leon turns down Sonny's offer to join him and Sal, to wherever they take the plane. Sonny tells police listening to the phone call that Leon had nothing to do with the robbery attempt.
After the phone call, the doctor asks Sonny to let Mulvaney leave and Sonny agrees. Mulvaney refuses, instead insisting he remain with his employees. The FBI calls Sonny out of the bank again. They have brought his mother to the scene. She unsuccessfully tries to persuade him to give himself up and Agent Sheldon signals that a limousine will arrive in ten minutes to take them to a waiting jet. Once back inside the bank, Sonny writes out his will, leaving money from his life insurance to Leon for her sex change and to his wife Angie.
When the limousine arrives, Sonny checks it for any hidden weapons or booby traps. When he decides the car is satisfactory, he settles on Agent Murphy to drive Sal, the remaining hostages and him to Kennedy Airport. Sonny sits in the front next to Murphy while Sal sits behind them. Murphy repeatedly asks Sal to point his gun at the roof so Sal won't accidentally shoot him. As they wait on the airport tarmac for the plane to taxi into position, Agent Sheldon forces Sonny's weapon onto the dashboard, creating a distraction which allows Murphy to pull a pistol hidden in his armrest and shoot Sal in the head. Sonny is immediately arrested and the hostages are all escorted to the terminal. The film ends with Sonny watching Sal's body being taken from the car on a stretcher.
The movie was based on the story of John Wojtowicz and adheres to the basic facts of what happened, according to the Life article "The Boys in the Bank". With Sal Naturile, Wojtowicz held up a Chase Manhattan Bank branch in Brooklyn, New York on August 22, 1972.
After being apprehended, Wojtowicz was convicted in court and sentenced to twenty years in prison, of which he served fourteen.
Wojtowicz wrote a letter to The New York Times in 1975 out of concern that people would believe the version of the events portrayed in the film, which he said was "only 30% true". Some of Wojtowicz's objections included the portrayal of his wife Carmen Bifulco, the conversation with his mother that Wojtowicz claimed never happened, and the refusal of police to let him speak to his wife Carmen (unlike what was portrayed in the film). He did, however, praise Al Pacino and Chris Sarandon's portrayals of him and his wife Ernest Aron as accurate. Also, Sal was 18 years old, yet is played in Dog Day Afternoon by a 39-year-old.
The film shows Sonny making out a will to give Leon his life insurance. Even if Sonny should be killed, Leon might still be able to pay for the operation. The real-life Wojtowicz was paid $7,500 plus 1% of the film's net profits for the rights to his story, $2,500 of which he gave to Ernest Aron to pay for her sexual reassignment surgery. Aron became Elizabeth Debbie Eden and lived out the rest of her days in New York. She died of complications from AIDS in Rochester in 1987. Wojtowicz himself died of cancer in January 2006.
The bank where the robbery took place was a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank, at 450 Avenue P in Brooklyn, at the cross street of East 3rd Street, in Gravesend Brooklyn. Today the location is the Brooklyn Medical Imaging Center.
The original inspiration for the film was an article written by P. F. Kluge and Thomas Moore for Life in September 1972. The article included many of the details later used in the film and noted the relationship which Wojtowicz and Naturile developed with hostages and the police. Bank manager Robert Barrett said, "I'm supposed to hate you guys [Wojtowicz/Naturile], but I've had more laughs tonight than I've had in weeks. We had a kind of camaraderie." Teller Shirley Bell said,"[I]f they had been my houseguests on a Saturday night, it would have been hilarious." The novelization of the film was penned by organized crime writer, Leslie Waller.
The film has no musical score other than the Elton John song "Amoreena" (which first appeared on John's 1970 album Tumbleweed Connection) in the opening credits. Although many scenes within the bank establish that it was quite hot during the robbery, some outdoor sequences were shot in weather so cold that actors had to put ice in their mouths to stop their breath from showing on camera. Exterior shots were filmed on location on Prospect Park West between 17th and 18th Street in Windsor Terrace of Brooklyn. The interior shots of the bank were filmed in a set created in a warehouse.
|Character||Actor/Actress||Role||Similar person from Life article|
|Sonny Wortzik||Al Pacino||Bank robber||John Wojtowicz|
|Salvatore "Sal" Naturile||John Cazale||Sonny's partner in the robbery||Salvatore Antonio Naturile|
|Detective Sgt. Eugene Moretti||Charles Durning||Police detective who originally negotiates with Sonny|
|Agent Sheldon||James Broderick||FBI agent who replaces Moretti in negotiations||Agent Richard Baker|
|Agent Murphy||Lance Henriksen||FBI agent/driver||Agent Murphy|
|Leon Shermer||Chris Sarandon||Sonny's lover||Ernest Aron|
|Sylvia "The Mouth"||Penelope Allen||Head teller||Shirley Bell (Wojtowicz also called her "The Mouth")|
|Mulvaney||Sully Boyar||Bank manager||Robert Barrett|
|Angie||Susan Peretz||Sonny's other wife||Carmen Bifulco|
|Jenny "The Squirrel"||Carol Kane||Bank teller|
|Stevie||Gary Springer||Sonny's second partner in the robbery||A second unknown partner who left immediately is mentioned|
|Howard Calvin||John Marriott||Unarmed bank guard||Calvin Jones|
Dog Day Afternoon, released in 1975, is based on events that took place in 1972. During this era of heavy opposition to the Vietnam war, "anti-establishment" Sonny repeatedly reminds people he is a Vietnam veteran and repeats the counter-cultural war cry of "Attica! in references the Attica Prison riots.
In a season 3 episode of House entitled "Lines in the Sand," House chants "Attica!" at Cuddy in an attempt to get her to reinstall the original carpet in his office.
In the episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia entitled "Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody's Ass," Charlie chases off a group of people from in front of the bar with a broom while yelling "Attica!"
In an episode of Spongebob Squarepants, Spongebob loses his nametag and begins a paranoid fantasy of the horrible things people could do with his nametag, one of which is a fish robbing a bank and inexplicably yelling "Attica!"
In the movie Swordfish, Gabriel Shear (John Travolta) references the heist, citing its lack of realism.
In the movie Inside Man, Denzel Washinton's character (a police officer) tells Clive Owen's character (a bank robber) in trying to bluff his way into finding out what Clive Owen's character is plotting says of the robber's demand for a plane "You don't want a plane - you never did. Who ever heard of bank robbers escaping on a plane with 50 hostages ? You saw 'Dog Day Afternoon' - you stole it ! Why ? I don't know.
The film was also nominated for the following seven Golden Globes, winning none:
The film won other awards, including an NBR Award for Best Supporting Actor (Charles Durning) and a Writers Guild Award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen (Frank Pierson) as well as the British Academy Award for Best Actor (Al Pacino). The film is also #70 on AFI's "100 Years... 100 Thrills" list. In 2006, Premiere magazine issued its "100 Greatest Performances of All Time", citing Pacino's performance as Sonny as the 4th greatest ever.