Judge Ryan Keefer is aware that it's not just the heat, it's the humidity that hurts.
The robbery should have taken 10 minutes. Four hours later, the bank was like a circus sideshow. Eight hours later, it was the hottest thing on live TV. Twelve hours later, it was all history. And it's all true.
Thirty years after its release, Dog Day Afternoon is still remembered for so many reasons, perhaps tops among them is the famous scene where Al Pacino yells "Attica!" But despite the transcendent film moment, who knew that there was an excellent film behind it. So now that it arrives on HD DVD, is it worth the upgrade? Is it worth buying at all?
Facts of the Case
Adapted from a Life Magazine article by Frank Pierson (Presumed Innocent) and directed by Sidney Lumet (Serpico), Pacino plays Sonny, a Vietnam veteran who attempts to rob a bank in Brooklyn with his friend Sal (John Cazale, The Deer Hunter). The robbery fails when the pair discovers that there is barely $1,000 in the bank. So the robbery is transformed into a hostage standoff. First, Sonny deals with Detective Moretti (Charles Durning, Tootsie), a New York detective, then he later deals with the FBI and an agent named Sheldon (James Broderick, Family).
However, another thing develops during this hazy August day in 1972, and it's the transformation of Sonny into a public figure. The hostages he's taken have developed a rapport with him, and the crowd of citizens congregating around the bank worships him, even as he tries to find a way out of his predicament with Sal.
Judge David Ryan is a bastard. Sure, we've gotten to know each other in the Verdict's Halls of Justice, and maybe I've struck up a fond kinship with a man who shares my love of fine wines, girls' lacrosse and plastic explosives. But in his excellent review of the earlier anniversary version of the film, he steals a lot of my intended thunder when it comes to discussing this film. But at least I agree with his earlier opinion; the performances are at the front and center of Dog Day Afternoon, and to see them in high definition is like adding milk to honey.
It seems like every performance in this film works, or is so unique, that you're left with a memorable experience unlike any other. Characters are full of texture and nuance, and Sonny and Sal fluctuate between capable gangster and bumbling fool many times. It starts almost immediately when Sonny pulls out his rifle; he can't get it out of the box! He tries to spray paint the surveillance camera lenses, but the effort is futile, and to see Pacino jump up to try and conceal them is like a child trying to get a cookie from a hard to reach shelf. You should be angered with what he's doing, but it's sad and funny and you can't help but empathize. Sal's response to Sonny's question of "any place in the world he wants to go" instantly transforms him from stoic thug who earlier had no qualms with killing, to someone who's just a lonesome loser. When Sonny and Leon (Chris Sarandon, Fright Night) have their conversation, the way Lumet and Pierson take the discussion from "look, it's two gay men" to "look, it's a wife henpecking her husband about his eccentricities" is a master stroke.
The supporting characters even get their fair share of moments. Yes, that is Carol Kane from Taxi as a female bank teller giving the phone to Sonny, to try and find out when the robbery will be over so she can come home. Penelope Allen (Hurlyburly) as the head teller looks at Moretti's hand as if it were a turd in a punchbowl, saying that she's going back inside with her girls. Thespians should look at Dog Day Afternoon as the cornerstone for making a role their own, bringing personalization into it while still monitoring the script, which is a joy to read as it is to see on screen.
The older Warner catalog titles have been hit or miss, but the 1080p transfer on this one looks better than I expected. The film's grittiness and flat imagery remain, but the figures stand out from the background more noticeably. The Dolby Digital Plus one channel soundtrack shows off the Elton John music at the beginning about as good as you could ask, everything sounds OK and in front of you. The extras are replicated from the SD two disc edition, and the big extra on this disc is the commentary with Lumet. I enjoy listening to older directors like Lumet and Paul Mazursky as they reflect on their films in the '70s because they bring a lot of information to the table. In this track, Lumet talks about some of the scenes that made the film stand out (along with the recollections of the setups during the production). He introduces his memories of the actual events, and discusses working with some of the actors of the production. For those of you who have read Lumet's book "Making Movies," much of this material is older ground, but to listen to him and his talent for recollection is commendable. After that is a multi-part examination of the film featuring recent interviews. Covering the production of the film, the real-life events that inspired the film, and the legacy of the film, the making-of look (shot by Laurent Bouzereau) includes participation by Pacino, Lumet, Pierson and producer Martin Bregman. The first part (at about 12 minutes in length) covers how the story came together and was adapted, with Pierson and Pacino covering a lot of that ground. The second part (another 13 minutes) brings in Lumet and everyone shares their memories about the casting choices made for the film. Pacino recalls recommending some of the actors, Sarandon and Durning provide some face time for the piece, and everyone shares their thoughts on the actors who are no longer with us. Lance Henriksen (who plays the FBI agent Murphy) even appears for a minute. Part three focuses on the production itself, including some examinations of the memorable shots and scenes. Lumet and editor Dede Allen recall some of the technical freedoms they had compared to other films, and the actors recall their times on set as well. This is the longest running piece at just over 20 minutes. The legacy of the film comprises the last part (which is just over 10 minutes), as everyone recalls their favorite parts, and Pierson recalls winning the Oscar (he was not available to claim his statue). There's a dated on-set featurette with Lumet directing on set, and the trailer completes things.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
About this film, I have no qualms or complaints, however there is one observation I'd like to make. Is this the genesis of the yelling Al Pacino? For every Dog Day Afternoon, there's a Devil's Advocate or Any Given Sunday, just waiting to get out. But there's difference between those films and this one is Pacino's performance, without a doubt.
Don't get me wrong, the performances are all flawless. However, look at the list of nominees that Dog Day Afternoon was up against; One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Nashville and Jaws, similar top shelf, long-lasting cinematic material. So while it might be lost in the shuffle, the cast is the strongest merit for consideration. A must-see if you haven't, and worth the upgrade to HD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Sidney Lumet
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