Viking Night: Dog Day Afternoon
By Bruce Hall
June 19, 2012
Let me tell you about the time a movie NOT made by Oliver Stone almost got someone killed.
There was a Brooklyn boy named John Wojtowicz, rotting away in prison for robbing a bank - or more accurately, “trying very unsuccessfully” to rob one. It wasn't all bad, though. It was a very entertaining bank robbery, and they even made a movie about it. Al Pacino played John. How cool is that? Hollywood made a movie about your life, and the guy who played Michael Corleone is gonna be YOU. Any sane person serving 20 years for armed robbery would want to tell all his friends - and that's what John did. We'll get back to him at the end. First, let's talk about what he did.
Sonny Wortzik (Pacino, and because most people can't pronounce "Wojtowicz") indeed decides to rob a bank, and he takes his friend Sal (John "Fredo" Cazale) along for the ride. Things go well at first. The gunmen round up the employees, and Sonny even brings a can of Krylon for the super giant early ‘70s video cameras. Sal brings a machine gun. Sonny brings a rifle, and seems to know an awful lot about how banks work. What could go wrong? Well, their big plan is to knock off the place right after the big weekly money drop that movie banks always have.
Sadly today they were picking up, not dropping off. And then the security guard has an asthma attack. And then the tellers start laughing at them. And then Sonny starts a fire to cover his tracks, attracting the police instead. Next thing you know, the bank is surrounded by 250 cops, a phalanx of news reporters, an unruly crowd, a chopper, and a partridge in a pear tree. Thanks to Sonny picking the wrong day, there's only a grand or so in the vault. So, assuming a bank robbery in New York gets you 25 years, that's an hourly wage so small it makes slavery seem like a great idea.
Now that's a Dog Day Afternoon. Yes, of course I said that.
But this armed gunman is a trooper, and a charismatic one. With the exception of the bank manager, whose job it is to appear sympathetic, and the security guard, who is quickly let go, all of Sonny's hostages are ladies. They quickly warm to Sonny's populist swagger and most of them even find his obvious incompetence endearing. In fact, once Sonny discovers how little a bank teller makes, he wins over not just the people in the bank, but the crowd gathered outside.
After he makes a public appearance to talk turkey with the Head Cop (Charles Durning), Sonny's mouth makes him an instant celebrity. He gets a telephone interview. He gets pizza delivered. He gets a jet fueled at the airport to take them to…Algeria…or something. The only ones not getting a kick out of Sonny and his pistol packin' pizza party are the police, fascists that they are, who are not about to just let a guy walk away after depriving a Federally insured bank of $1,100.