Were it not for the fine acting, fine directing, fine scripting, fine... everything, this would be just another police-crime drama about a bank robbery on a hot afternoon in Brooklyn. Although the line is never said, the only cliché that is missing is the familiar 'We've got the place surrounded – come out with your hands up."
What makes this different is that we are shown the robbery from the point of view of the robber. Al Pacino is Sonny, a "nice boy" to his family, a bisexual who is loved by both his wives, female and male, who keeps digging himself in deeper and deeper, taking us along with him. It is a study in madness, the same kind of madness that once saw Fry Hearst joining her captors. We, the audience, are made to feel the pressures Sonny feels and not the fears of the hostages that are so typical of this sort of film. It might seem like fantastic fiction were it not reality-based. At the beginning of the film we are told: "What you are about to see is true — it happened in Brooklyn, New York on August 22, 1972". There ought to be another mention later in the picture, since one tends to forget this could really have taken place. Only at the end are we reminded this was a factual story, when we learn that Sonny was sentenced to 20 years.
Al Pacino gives a powerful performance, so effective it seems almost ad-libbed. His acting technique — the nuances, the gestures, a look here, a nervous tic there — rightfully earned him the Oscar nomination. (He also received nominations for Godfather I and his other Lumet-directed film, Serpico). Godfather I and II made him a star: Dog Day Afternoon showcased him as an actor. The intensity of his performance was not without a price — about halfway through the production, Pacino collapsed from exhaustion and had to be hospitalized for a short time. He swore off movies for awhile, returning to his first love, the Broadway stage.
John Cazale gives a memorable performance as Sal, Sonny's partner-in-crime. Cazale had also worked in both Godfather pictures, playing Pacino's brother Fred. One of the hostages, a young actress named Carol Kane, is worth noting. Ms. Kane received a nomination for Best Actress in 1975 for her starring role in Hester Street. She went on to co-star in TV's 'Taxi" as well as numerous other films and television series.
The real robbers got $213,000 in the robbery.
The outdoor sequences were actually filmed in cold weather. So that their breath would not be visible, the actors placed ice in their mouths before each take.
Sonny: I’m a Catholic and I don’t want to hurt anybody.
Sonny’s Mother: How beautiful you were when you were a baby.
GOOFS AND BLUNDERS
In 1972, NYC police squad cars were dark green and white, not blue and white which debuted about two years later.
The movie has an irreverent, quirky sense of humor, and we get some notion of the times we live in when the bank starts getting obscene phone calls -- and the giggling tellers breathe heavily into the receiver. There's also, in a film that's probably about fifteen minutes too long, an attempt to take a documentary look at the ways police and banks try to handle situations like this. Reviewed by: Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times.
Dog Day Afternoon is an unabashed classic, a template by which other movies are based and a formula which is periodically tweaked and refined. There are few things you can complain about in Dog Day -- a second act that relies on a few too many variations of the same 'the cops are scheming' bit, and that's about it. Reviewed by: Christopher Null of Film Critic.
If you can let yourself laugh at desperation that has turned seriously lunatic, the film is funny, but mostly it's reportorially efficient and vivid, in the understated way of news writing that avoids easy speculation. Reviewed by: Vincent Canby of The New York Times.