1/13/14

ROB THE MOB MEETS DOG DAY AFTERNOON


From the time I first saw it broadcast on the Z Channel (LA's first true cable movie channel), Sidney Lumet and Frank Pierson's "Dog Day Afternoon" has been one of my favorite of all movies. Repeated viewings have never done anything to soften this opinion--the film holds up as well if not better than most of the acknowledged classics of the period.

For those of you who don't know the film (is this a possibility?), it tells the true story of a bank robbery gone terribly awry in Brooklyn during the sweltering summer of 1972. Lumet shot the location of the bank in which almost all of the action takes place in a converted warehouse, thus allowing him the flexibility of 'flying' walls inside (thus making shooting easier than if it had been a real bank) and tying the inside together with the outside street (where multitudes of onlookers and cops gather almost instantly after the  doomed robbery begins). Much of Al Pacino's performance was, if not exactly improvised, at least developed as the rehearsal process went along and the verite feel of the entire film was something I always admired and hoped to emulate one day.

Most importantly, I loved that it was a movie about a true crime that barely anybody but the local New York news media covered. True stories are always fascinating to dramatize, but finding a true story that isn't already known by everyone--and that has, within its events, the potential for real size and emotion--is a daunting task. You want to find an event that has both recognizably human interest and conflict and an outsized madness, an absurdity that makes it worth telling. I was always looking for "my" DDA and had never come across it.

At least until I was sent Jonathan Fernandez's script for "Rob The Mob" by producer Bill Teitler. The story of Thomas Uva and Rosemarie De Toma was only briefly a local news story of any repute. Those interested in it tended to be connoisseurs of street stories--true crime junkies who enjoyed the madness of the tale. Over the years it gained a kind of cult status for those intrigued by the Mafia and its gradual undoing in the 1990s. But at the time of the couples murder at the hands of the mob (on Christmas eve 1992), the story that emerged was too absurd to be considered tragic by the general public. The tale of the guy who robbed the Mafia social clubs and the girl who drove the getaway car largely provoked contempt for the couples stupidity and arrogance in thinking they could get away with it.

But within that tale was another story waiting to be told: who was the boy whose mixture of contempt and fascination for the mob drove him to enact his bold and suicidal scheme? And how much must the girl in his life have loved and believed in his story, his cause, to go along with his insane idea? It was those two questions that, for me, made the story precisely the kind I'd been wanting to tell ever since my first viewing of DDA. It contained a universal theme: 'what in our pasts drive us to commit the acts that define our future?' It asked a universal question: 'how does love influence our perceptions of right and wrong?' And it contained a heartbreaking truism: 'the end of our stories have already been written. Life is just our finding a logical way to get there.' All three are the same questions asked and answered in DDA.

Below are two clips. The fabulous opening credit sequence of "Dog Day Afternoon" (accompanied bizarrely but perfectly by Elton John's "Amoreena"). And the actual ABC news coverage of the event as it occurred in 1972.





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