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Dog Day Afternoon, Directed by Sidney Lumet

Warner Bros., September 21, 1975 (US)

Screenplay: Frank Pierson, based on the LIFE magazine article "The Boys in the Bank" by P. F. Kluge and Thomas Moore

Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, James Broderick, and Charles Durning

Thieves are people robbed of sound mind. Convoluted logic, shortsightedness and desperation begin to justify how an individual can accept a bank heist as a good idea … a manageable solution. A way out. Innumerable feeble judgments serve as an accomplice in criminal psychology. All the same, one miscalculation just as easily becomes the lawbreaker’s adversary. A stick-up requires an airtight scheme with no room for mistake.

Sylvia (Penelope Allen): Did you have a plan or what? What did you do—just barge in on a whim? Huh?

The element of surprise yields an advantage at first. Brandishing a weapon imposes stark power: He who wields a gun is in control. Hostages are told as long as everybody follows instructions, no one will get hurt. That is the intent, at any rate. That and to steal bags filled with cash in a quick, clean getaway.

He who wields a gun is in control. Reason repudiates that if one threatens with a gun, then circumstances have already careened off the rails. No point in rationale now, though. Cops surround the building. Police line the roof with their own arms drawn. Scores of blues—none of whom were part of the original plan—wait for a next move. Improvisation is suddenly the name of the game. A smooth escape has gotten away.

Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino): Oh … Look, I’ve gotta have time to think now. I gotta think.

Premeditation dies in a flash, side by side with deliberation from the past. Future actions live on the fly. Nerves fray, while the struggle to survive shifts into an impromptu juggling act. A circus has rolled into town.

Sonny: You think it’s easy? You know, I gotta keep them cooled out. I gotta keep all you people happy. I gotta have all the ideas. And I got to do it all alone.

Of all days for things to go wrong, today could not have been a worse day. This was supposed to be an opportunity to do good. This was supposed to be a chance to take charge and get out from under a suffocating mess. Today should have been the day nobody called the guy in command a clown.

Sonny: I’m a fuck-up, and I’m an outcast and that’s it. You come near me, and you’re gonna get it. You’re gonna get fucked over and fucked out. Now, I gotta go, Mom.

Foresight deceives the corrupt imagination toward a desired end, but hitches along the way always handcuff the wayward son to reality.