Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

This is the last of my current lot of Lumet on loan from Brendan, so I’m going to have to go in search of more. It’s a good thing in a way that this was based on an actual event, cos it would’ve been damn near too hard to believe as fiction; hard enough to believe as fact (how often do men rob banks to pay for their gay lover’s sex change operation? That’s a pretty goddamn specific motive). It’s a classic tale of a heist gone wrong, though what sets this apart from other examples of same is the impressive speed with which things turned to shit, i.e. almost immediately… three men walk into a bank, only to find that one of them suddenly can’t stand the prospect of committing a crime and then discovering the bank actually doesn’t have as much money to steal as they were expecting. And then things obviously only went downhill from there. Whatever brand of canned ham Pacino may have mutated into in later years, he was clearly on fire in the mid-70s, and Dog Day Afternoon is very much his show as an actor, though he is surrounded by a perfectly able supporting cast, all of whom make their own contribution to Lumet’s somewhat black comic treatment of the tale. I suspect he did a better job in Network of showing how frankly unlikely media superstars are adopted; although Sonny is clearly meant as some sort of anti-Establishment figure, albeit one whipped up with remarkable speed, that aspect of the story is kind of underdeveloped here. Otherwise, though, yet another one of those generally acknowledged classics I’m only discovering now that I really should’ve seen years ago; indeed I’m kind of surprised I didn’t, cos it’s not like it’s traditionally been hard to get hold of in this country unlike some of the stuff I’ve only belatedly seen thanks to imports…

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One thought on “Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

  1. DS October 25, 2012 at 2:36 am

    I saw this – as a kid! – when it came out. (I also saw Freebie and the Bean at around the same time!) A friend of mine’s family owned a small theatre, and we always got in to anything. I remember both films as deeply disturbing, as there was no context for processing these images regarding transsexuality and homosexuality at that time. Fortunately, due to the efforts of many people, there is now a much wider range of images and messages for discussing these issues. Reasonable images and messages counter jarring and disturbing ones such as are in this film; they also counter the ongoing slop and slander of right-wing ignorance and distortions regarding these matters.

    Hollywood historically dealt with gay people and transsexual people either by making them laughable (subjects of ridicule) or by making them tragic (historically, they always were slated to die in films). I recommend “The Celluloid Closet” – a documentary, narrated by Lily Tomlin, that makes this point quite effectively. Portrayals have changed for the better, fortunately – though not enough, and certainly not enough for transsexual people. Still, I think younger people today can’t imagine the lack of information and lack of context in the 1970’s.

    Even if Dog Day Afternoon bought into certain stereotypes, I’d argue it was nevertheless a revolutionary film. It metaphorically expressed the rage felt by gay & trans people which you can read about in early-1970’s gay liberation newspapers, if you can find them. I see the film as a symbolic statement: the bewilderment of everybody in the film (as I remember it), the confusion, the disorder – this expresses early 1970’s America in general as well as early-1970’s America in regards to this “strange phenomenon” of gay people actually existing.

    You’re right about Pacino – this was brilliant, brilliant acting — wild and wooly, and utterly riveting. And I admire his guts for taking on this role DECADES before such roles would be touched by the vast majority of Hollywood actors.

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