Home > Movies, Reviews (Movies) > Dog Day Afternoon: Stress, Disappointment, & Bigotry

Dog Day Afternoon: Stress, Disappointment, & Bigotry

*Written for the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series at The Film Experience*

Al Pacino’s work in the 1970’s will always be one of the most impressive streaks of virtuoso performance in any art form. His work in both Godfather films, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon rank among the finest acting exhibitions post-Brando. Pacino took a risk by portraying Sonny Wortzik, but created an unforgettable portrait of stress and disappointment.

Dog Day Afternoon has a traditional Hollywood climax at the end, but the emotional peak comes earlier. The audience watches Sonny speak to the two loves in his life — one man, one woman — for almost 14 minutes. While his lovers are held in wide shots and middle shots with the occasional close-up, Sonny is always held in a tight frame the entire time. The difficulty of sustaining a character during a phone conversation for this duration cannot be exaggerated. Remember that, when filming, Pacino isn’t hearing another voice on the phone. At best, the other end is represented by a reader standing off-camera. [Edit: A reader just informed me that Pacino and others were on the phone with each other during shooting. A rare, fantastic call by Lumet.]

The “best shot” above comes at the very end of this masterful segment and we see the burden of kindness begin to crush Sonny to death. Sidney Lumet is not necessarily a great director. With 12 Angry MenNetwork, and Dog Day, the films for which he is most remembered, Lumet basically succeeded in realizing a breathtaking script. His imagery is mostly tame and rarely adventurous. Surely, his ability to crank out acceptable (and sometimes extraordinary) renderings of the best Hollywood writing is what made him so indispensable to producers. This frame is not bold or particularly revealing, but it does demonstrate Lumet’s ability to recognize a gold mine when he finds one.

Pierson’s script and Pacino’s performance combine to create one of the best character studies of the decade. It’s a true human tragedy amplified by Pacino’s intense internalization of bigotry.

  1. August 22, 2012 at 9:47 PM

    Lumet actually did arrange it so the actor’s would be on the phone with Pacino during the filming of the scene. He also made sure that even if the footage was eventually cut Pacino would act the whole scene straight through without stopping.

    • August 22, 2012 at 10:13 PM

      Wow! Thanks for the correction, Michael.

  2. August 22, 2012 at 10:45 PM

    we chose the same scene. I really think it’s an intensely brave screenwriting gambit but the back to back phone calls are to me the point and the heart of the movie. His two lives crashing togethe both eerily similar but he’s never able to reconcile with either life. what a mess and what an amazing star turn

  3. August 22, 2012 at 11:10 PM

    I read all those trivia items in Lumet’s book Making Movies. I highly recommend it. Probably the finest book I’ve ever picked up about the nuts and bolts of making films. He has a terrific passage regarding the shooting of the scene you highlighted.


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