the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Warner Home Video presents

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Sonny: Is there any special country you want to go to?
Sal: Wyoming.- Al Pacino, John Cazale

Stars: Al Pacino, John Cazale, James Broderick, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon
Director: Sidney Lumet

MPAA Rating: RRun Time: 02h:04m:29s
Release Date: 2006-02-21
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ ABB- B+


DVD Review

What a cherry bomb of a movie this is. It's edgy and smart and funny, it oozes New York from its pores, and it's got a handful of performances that are indelible—all that, and it's probably the movie that cemented Al Pacino's status as an A-list movie star. Most actors so want to be loved, and most movies today are so safe and focus grouped to death, resulting in motion pictures that are shot through with all the zest of a days-old Happy Meal. But none of that applies to Dog Day Afternoon, one of the most spirited pictures from what seems like the last great period in American filmmaking.

Any writer in a candid moment will tell you that the words "Based on a true story" is professional code for "Completely made up, except for when it isn't." (Wouldn't things have gone better for James Frey if he had just copped to that from the jump?) But certainly some of the juice of this movie comes from the fact that the kernel of it came from actual events, a bank heist gone comically and horribly wrong in Brooklyn in the summer of 1972. But director Sidney Lumet and screenwriter Frank Pierson aren't offering just a journalistic account of the story behind a particularly salacious set of tabloid headlines—they've crafted a movie that's rich with character and tension, frequently poignant, and very, very funny. The third guy in on the heist chickens out only moments into the robbery, and so we're left with two: Sonny, the talker, manic but cagey; and Sal, the quiet one, with sad eyes and an itchy trigger finger. They overtake the laughable security measures at a Brooklyn bank at closing time, and round up the hostages: the bank manager, the security guard, and a handful of tellers. Bad news for our boys, though: they've gotten some bad intelligence, and the armored truck that was by earlier in the day didn't drop off sacks of cash, but rather picked them up, meaning that the take from the crime is going to be a small one.

But that's the least of it—within minutes, the authorities are on to Sonny and Sal, putting the kibosh on their clean getaway, and really putting the story in motion. Soon local TV news helicopters are swarming the scene, as are a rash of SWAT teams, FBI agents, local yahoos, and anybody else in the vicinity looking for a little bit of street theater on a crazy hot summer day. Pierson's script is especially smart in giving everyone their due—there's nuance in just about every character, and they're all deeply human, especially as played by the film's crackerjack cast. The name above the title is Pacino's, and as Sonny, he really is pretty great. He's smart about some stuff, but hopelessly stupid about other things—you get the sense that he's making it up as he goes, and that Sonny is a disturbed man who's gotten to a bad place, but, even with guns and violence, he somehow wants to do the right thing. John Cazale's Sal is the perfect complement to Pacino's Sonny—Sal doesn't have the gift of words that Sonny does, but Cazale is brilliant in showing us his troubled soul. (His answer to Sonny's question at the top of this review is maybe the funniest and most heartbreaking moment I can think of in any movie.) They're a great on-screen team, and seem that much more spectacular as actors when you compare their very different but equally fine work just two years earlier as Michael and Fredo in The Godfather, Part II.

Charles Durning is terrific as a street-smart cop in over his head with Sonny; about halfway through the story he's forced to hand over the reins to James Broderick, all cool insinuating efficiency, as an FBI agent—Broderick isn't playing for comedy, and his incredible cool is the necessary force driving the movie to its conclusion. I don't want to spill too much of the story, but no discussion of Dog Day Afternoon would be complete without a celebration of the work of Chris Sarandon as Leon. He's a fragile, funny, crazy drama queen, and in other hands, this could have been over the top, a caricature. But Sarandon's every moment is genuinely felt, and he brings a tremendous sense of empathy and caring to the troubled Leon.

Presiding over the proceedings is the inimitable Sidney Lumet, and this may well be the director's finest hour. He's long been one of the great New York filmmakers, and seems to have a particular affinity for cops and robbers—he and Pacino worked the other side of the street with Serpico, and his filmmaking has been stylish and efficient, whatever the subject matter. But he seems to connect to this material particularly, giving the telling of the story a passion and a streetwise sensibility that separate it from the pack, marking this as one of the great ones.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Many of the films of this period haven't fared so well with the years, and you can see the results of the fragile and decaying film stock that was used—the blues especially look faded. But the transfer here is decent enough, if not spectacular.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Lumet's sound mix is an ambitious one, though some of the atmospherics don't transfer all that well on this mono track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Sidney Lumet
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: We've been tantalized with brief Lumet interviews on other DVDs, so it's a great pleasure to listen to his commentary track here—he's a wonderful storyteller, and unsurprisingly remembers this film with enormous fondness and in great detail. He discusses allowing the actors to improvise, always within the context of Pierson's structure, giving the performers a sense of ownership. He's also got a reputation as a most efficient filmmaker, and he talks about how Durning was shooting this simultaneously with a picture in Los Angeles for Robert Wise, the only other director that Lumet would have trusted with this sort of joint-custody arrangement. It's a strong effort, and well worth listening to.

The centerpiece of the second disc is a four-part documentary (57m:46s), The Making of Dog Day Afternoon, in which Lumet recounts some of the same stories; there's also great new interview footage with Pacino, Sarandon, Durning, Pierson, producer Martin Bregman, editor Dede Allen, and cinematographer Victor J. Kemper. Pierson is front and center for the first chapter, discussing story development, and casting is the principal subject of the second—this is largely a celebration of Cazale, who died too young and left behind a handful of indelible performances. There are many tales from the set in the third chapter, and in the fourth the filmmakers identify their favorite scenes, and ruefully discuss getting eclipsed by that year's Academy darling, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Finally, Lumet: Film Maker (09m:59s) is a vintage featurette, made at the time of the film's production, filled with testimony to the love and respect that the crew had for their director.

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

Brutally funny, scathingly candid, and sometimes unbearably tense, this is one of the great pieces of urban filmmaking that you'll ever see, featuring terrific work from consummate pros in front of and behind the camera. It's also wonderful that a grand raconteur like Sidney Lumet has finally recorded a commentary track. This two-disc special edition is one to savor, in Brooklyn, or Wyoming, or anywhere else.

Jon Danziger 2006-02-20