dog day cicadae

Dog Day Afternoon

Dog Day Afternoon is a 1975 American crime drama film directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Frank Pierson. The film stars Al Pacino, John Cazale, Chris Sarandon, James Broderick, and Charles Durning. Based on the events of a bank robbery that took place on August 22, 1972, Dog Day Afternoon tells the story of John "Sonny" Wortzik, who, with his partner Salvatore Naturile, holds the employees of a Brooklyn, New York bank hostage the day after his pre-operative transgendered girlfriend was committed to a psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt. The title refers to the "dog days of summer".

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.


First-time crook Sonny Wortzik and his friend Sal rob a Brooklyn bank to fund Sonny's (male) wife's sex change operation, only to discover that the bank has very little money at the time. Their third accomplice loses his nerve, and runs off during the raid. They are then informed that the police have been tipped off and have the bank under siege. Unsure what to do, the two robbers camp out in the bank, holding all the workers hostage.

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.

Historical event

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.


The Life article described Wojtowicz as "a dark, thin fellow with the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman". Hoffman would later be offered the role when Pacino briefly quit the production. An 18-year-old actor was originally to be cast in the role of Sal to match the age of the actual Salvatore. The table below summarizes the main cast of Dog Day Afternoon.
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.

Critical reactions

Upon its release, Dog Day Afternoon received generally favorable reviews. Vincent Canby called it "Sidney Lumet's most accurate, most flamboyant New York movie" and praised the "brilliant characterizations" by the entire cast. Roger Ebert called Sonny "one of the most interesting modern movie characters" and gave the movie three-and-a-half stars out of four. As time has passed, the film continues to generate a positive critical reception. For example, Christopher Null has said that the film "captures perfectly the zeitgeist of the early 1970s, a time when optimism was scraping rock bottom" and that "John Wojtowicz was as good a hero as we could come up with". P.F. Kluge, author of the article that inspired the film, believed that the filmmakers "stayed with the surface of a lively journalistic story" and that the film had a "strong, fast-paced story" without "reflection" or "a contemplative view of life".

References in popular culture

During the confrontation with the police, Sonny shouts the word "Attica" in order to rile up the crowd of onlookers, and gain their support in opposition to the police. This single-word quote is listed at #86 on the AFI's list of "100 Years...100 Movie Quotes".

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 the movie Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero (John Travolta) does an ironic impression of Pacino's "Attica" chant.

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.

In the movie Garden State, when Zach Braff's character arrives at a party, his friends cry "Attica!" because he is a Hollywood actor.


Dog Day Afternoon won the Academy Award for Writing - Original Screenplay (Frank Pierson) and was nominated for other Oscars:

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.


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