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.
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.
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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