Laughter and tears on a Dog Day Afternoon

John Cazale in Dog Day Afternoon

Sonny and hostage

Dog Day Afternoon may just be the second greatest film ever made (Ghost is the greatest film ever made). Dog Day Afternoon can be summed up in three letters. Okay maybe six. SMH and likely OMG. Every time I view Dog Day Afternoon I spend the first three quarters of the film shaking my head, chuckling at some points, gaffawing loudly at others. The second half of the film or so is OMG. Truth is stranger than fiction, and this film is the best example. No writer could create such a crazy story. Only the truth of history could provide such a zany plot, hilarious and tragic all at once.

Dog Day Afternoon reviews

After all the constant head shaking and laughter, the tears practically flow freely by the end of the film – no easy feat. Although this film is over forty years old, I don’t want to spoil specific plot points here for a couple of reasons. For one, anyone who has seen Dog Day Afternoon already knows the story anyway, and for two, this is a film you really need to see fresh. No spoilers. No warnings. No preconditioning. Just find it somewhere and watch it.

Dog Day Afternoon poster

Anyone who reads my blog knows I’m a sucker for 1970s NYC films and Dog Day Afternoon delivers and then some! You get real New York City mid 1970s. This is no recreation. Although the incident portrayed in the film occurred in 1972, the film was made only a few years later, as opposed to being some more recent production. The 70s lives here in no artificial way. Genuine is the word of the day.

Another strong point is the soundtrack. There is virtually none. Some music opens the film and sets the mood, but thereafter we have only the sounds of the environment of the setting. No music to artificially taint the feeling. The emotions of the situation provide their true flavors here unspoilt by any outside interpretation. Crowds, sirens, the noises of the people moving about the bank. The tension is increased tenfold as we wait. No sweet melody fills the void. We get no respite from the fear and anxiety of the heist gone wrong.

For fans of Spike Lee’s Inside Man, this movie is the uncredited inspiration.

Spike Lee

Director SPIKE LEE on the set of his tense hostage drama, “Inside Man”

The homages and tributes are too numerous for this to be denied, including a hostage in this film reprising the role of hostage in Inside Man, as well as the actor who plays the pizza delivery man from Dog Day Afternoon delivering pizzas in Inside Man (which for anyone unfamiliar also deals with a bank robbery/hostage situation). (On a side note, the pizza box in Inside Man says Sal’s Pizza – a Do The Right Thing reference while also (coincidentally?) being the name of a main character in Dog Day Afternoon.)

Sal's Pizza

An interesting thing to do while watching an older film like Dog Day Afternoon (especially if you’ve already seen it before) is to compare and contrast modern takes versus the societal norms from the time of the film. I won’t even get into actual social issues (since I don’t want to reveal too much) but a couple of things are worth keeping in mind while you view the film. One, as gun control is such a hot topic in February of 2018, think of a bank robbery where the customers, guards, maybe even the employees actually had a gun… Even one person with a gun. But as no one but the crooks have guns, they call all the shots. At first, anyway… Secondly, and you might easily miss this one upon first viewing: there’s a sign in the bank about a dream vacation. The sell? A savings account! I can’t imagine a similar sign in a bank today about dream vacations being anything but a push to apply for a loan. (The original Pay Day board game from the 1970s featured savings accounts and loans. In the 1970s board game, much as in real life, you prospered by avoiding loans as much as possible unless a clear business case existed with the good chance to profit long term despite the interest payments on the loan, and instead built up your savings. Today the game is quite hard to come by. Take a loan is the motto for 2018… )

Payday board game

In summary, the first half of Dog Day Afternoon is arguably (at least one of) the funniest film(s) ever made. The SMH factor is off the charts. Clumsy, discombobulated bank robbers always make for good comedy (at least in film!) and the straight faced delivery here is just about as good as film can get. The terrible tragedy of it all creeps up later and sobers us back up as reality reminds us who is in charge.  Watch it for the laughs. Watch it for a good cry. Watch it to get your 70s NYC vibe on. Find your excuse, and watch Dog Day Afternoon today!

Dog Day Afternoon poster

 

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