Category Archives: Robbing Banks

W. W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975)

w w dixie dancekings

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Conman promotes country band.

Burt Reynolds plays a good-natured, fun-loving conman who travels the south robbing gas stations as well as conning anyone out of their money in any way he can. He comes into contact with the Dixie Dancekings a struggling country band trying to make it big. W.W. initially sees this as another con-game by pretending to be a big time manager, who can use his influence to bring them to Nashville and send them straight to the top, but eventually he takes a liking to them and them to him and they begin working together to make it big while robbing banks along the way.

The film  is  fun and breezy and quite entertaining at the start. Reynolds’ charm practically propels the thing the whole way and manages to almost make up for its other shortcomings. His glib non sequiturs and boyish grin are on full display making this one of his better comical vehicles. I also loved the creative scene transitions and the playful digs at southern culture. It all comes to a head near the midway point when the group robs a bank with Polly Holliday playing the teller that makes great use of its cartoonish props and overblown action.

Unfortunately Thomas Rickman’s script fails to introduce any type of third act. The story coasts too much on its playful humor until it becomes old and tiring. There is not enough momentum or conflict and no discernable tension at all. The band members have no individual personalities and come off like faceless lemmings that are there to support Reynolds’ spotlight and nothing more.  Art Carney has a few interesting moments cast in an atypical role of the heavy in this case a police detective who is also a religious zealot that tracks the group down, but the dumb way that their final confrontation gets resolved is dull and disappointing.

It’s great to see country singer Jerry Reed making is acting film debut as he and Reynolds  would later go on to star in three more films together, but his character is not given enough to do, which ultimately makes is presence pointless.  Conny Van Dyke gets cast as the female lead, but shows little pizazz. The part was originally offered to Dolly Parton who would’ve been far superior, but she unfortunately turned it down.

John G. Avildsen’s direction is at times creative, but the plot and characters needed more layers as it all regrettably adds up to being nothing more than forgettable fluff.

w w dixie dancekings 2

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 21, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.

The Catamount Killing (1974)

catamount killing 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: They’re wracked with guilt.

Mark (Horst Buchholz) is a recent divorcee who has moved to a small town and gotten a job as the new bank manager. The bank is small and not adequately guarded giving him the idea to pull off a robbery as an inside job. He seduces the emotionally fragile Kit (Ann Wedgeworth) into helping him with his plan. Initially things go smoothly, but then they begin feeling guilty over what they’ve done especially since the robbery involved the death of someone else. Then Kit’s daughter Iris (Louise Caire Clark) becomes suspicious that her mother might’ve been involved, which causes the couple to unravel in dramatic fashion.

I hate to use the fact that this is a low budget film as a reason for why it’s poor as not every movie has to have state-of-the-art special effects to be entertaining and good story telling and competent direction are still the foundation of a good movie and that can be accomplished on the most miniscule of budgets. However, this film, which was filmed on location in Bennigton, Vermont, looks cheap and stale. The camera work is unimaginative and it does not take advantage of some of the historical landmarks in the town where it was filmed making the background and setting look blah and uninteresting. Its loud, crashing orchestral music score would be better suited for a Hollywood epic and is pretentious and out-of-place here.

The set-up moves too fast and could’ve been the result of watching the American version, which is 11 minutes shorter than the European one. Either way it’s poorly constructed with the two falling in love and plotting the crime without much background information given about them making it all seem forced and rushed. The robbery itself isn’t unique and when compared to other bank robbery movies this one is weak and forgettable.

Buchholz gives a strong performance, which helps the limp material to some degree. Wedgeworth is outstanding. Somehow her soap opera-styled histrionics and Texas accent is something I’ve always found appealing and makes for a fun performance. This also mark the film debut of Polly Holliday who appears briefly sporting a foreign accent that does not sound too believable.

There are enough twists to keep it plausible and mildly engrossing, but the ending lacks impact and like the rest of the movie falls flat. The plot is based off the novel ‘I’d Rather Stay Poor’ by James Hadley Chase, which I suspect would be a far superior version to this.

catamout killing 1

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 11, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes (American Version)

Rated PG

Director: Krzysztof Zanussi

Studio: Starlight

Available: VHS, DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video

The Getaway (1972)

getaway 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bank robbery goes bad.

Based on pulp writer Jim Thompson’s novel the story centers on Doc McCoy (Steve McQueen) who is stuck in the Texas State Prison and itching to get out. He gets his wife Carol (Ali MacGraw) who is on the outside to strike a deal with Sheriff Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson) where he will get a release as long as he agrees to rob a bank using Benyon’s men. Doc is somewhat reluctant, but agrees to go along with it only to find that after the robbery he has been double-crossed and now along with his wife must make a dash for Mexico while being chased by the cops and going through a wide assortment of unexpected obstacles.

Action director guru Sam Peckinpah has done many classic films most notably The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, but this one has always been my favorite as it’s a nice mix of action, character study and comedy. In fact it’s the subtle humor that I like best. I get a kick out of the shot showing Benyon’s brother’s henchman riding in a convertible down a highway while having their hands on their cowboy hats in order to keep them from blowing off. I also chuckled at the book actor Dub Taylor has in his back pocket while cowering under a table during a shootout or what actor Al Lettieri immediately does after finding a dead man hanging in a bathroom.

Peckinpah also makes great use of sound particularly at the beginning where during the opening credits we hear no music, but instead the monotonous sounds of the machines inside the prison workshop, which helps convey Doc’s increasing frustration and this sound doesn’t stop until the exact second that the prison doors open up and allows him out. When there is music it’s effective and distinct particularly the harmonica solos by Toots Thielemans.

Of course Peckinpah’s trademark action sequences are excellent and maybe even superior to his other films because the situations are more unique including an exciting segment showing the couple trapped inside a garbage truck as well as an impromptu shootout along the main street of Fabens, Texas. The only complaint is the scene where Doc’s car goes crashing through someone’s front porch and yet the car shows no visible damage; one shot does show a crack in the corner of the windshield, but then in the next shot it has magically disappeared.

McQueen’s ability to show effortless cool and make an edgy character likable proves what a legendary actor he is and it’s a shame that he doesn’t get placed with the best of them amongst casual movie fans because he really should. MacGraw is at the peak of her beauty here and her moments of vulnerability are great. Struthers gives the best performance of her career as an unfaithful wife of a kindly veterinarian (Jack Dodson) and Lettieri, who unfortunately died at the young age of 47 just 3 years after this film’s release by a heart attack brought on by severe alcoholism, which was already painfully apparent to the cast and crew during the filming of this adds great tension as Doc’s double-crossing partner.

The film also makes great use of its Texas locations bringing out the ruggedness of the region without overdoing it. I particularly liked the scenes in the junkyard as well as footage shot on-location inside the Huntsville prison using actual prisoners and the longshot showing the flat, barren landscape that Doc first sees when he gets out.

I’ve watched this movie many times and never cease to grow tired of it. In fact it seems even more original after multiple viewings. It was unwisely remade in 1994 that starred Alec Baldwin, who doesn’t come close to McQueen’s stature. This version is by far the better one and the other should be avoided.

getaway 2

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 13, 1972

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Perfect Friday (1970)

perfect friday

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kooky trio robs bank.

This uniquely structured and offbeat sleeper details an elaborate bank heist where staid bank employee Mr. Graham (Stanley Baker) uses his inside knowledge to pull off an ingenious robbery. Unfortunately he is dependent on the oddball couple of Nick (David Warner) and Britt (Ursula Andress) to help him.

This film is probably more of a kooky character study than it is a heist flick. The three characters are intrinsically different from each other and their constant bickering, feuding, and interplay are a treat. In fact they never get into the actual robbery or even the details of it until the last forty minutes.

Baker is fun in the lead. He is the perfect caricature of the stuffy British businessman. His contained pomposity and cryptic deliveries are right on-target. Warner makes for a good contrast. He is lazy and undisciplined with a tendency to wear outrageous looking outfits. It is interesting though that he can get serious when he needs to particularly during the crime itself.

Andress is the scene stealer and this is a perfect role for her limited acting abilities. She plays a greedy woman prone to outrageous extravagance and indulgence even if she lacks the funds for it. Her caricature of the materialistic woman gets taken to the extreme and is hilarious. In most cases she would be disliked, but here her beauty and innocuous way she delivers her lines make her amusing instead.

Director Peter Hall seems to pride himself on making it offbeat and full of many twists and succeeds most of the way even with his use of the glass offices that the bank employees have to work in. The robbery itself is intricate and believable and full of mounting tension. The film’s only real problem comes with its ending that is too abrupt and in many ways almost like a cop-out. There is such a fun chemistry between the three characters that it really could have been played out much more.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Hall

Studio: Chevron Pictures

Available: None at this time.

I Love a Man in Uniform (1993)

I love a man in uniform

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Losing touch of reality.

Overly stylish, pretentious drama detailing an actor’s slow decent into madness. Henry (Tom McCamus) an otherwise anonymous bank employee finally gets his big break as an actor playing the part of a cop on a TV show, but then starts to take the role home with him. Intoxicated with the sense of power that he gets playing a man in uniform he eventually can no longer differentiate between the role and himself.

On one hand this is a fascinating and incisive drama. It examines an ambiguous area rarely touched upon anywhere else. Namely how an actor ‘becomes’ his role and how he learns to turn it off. It also questions whether anyone, even a trained actor, can be someone they are not as well as analyzing people’s need to become someone who is important, powerful, and in control.

Yet the film takes this and then suffocates it with a new wave mentality and a thumping techno music score. It looks like something made by a young guy who watched too many episodes of “Miami Vice”. The stylization gets strained. Trying to be both ‘important’ and trendy never gels and the attempt at mixing ‘real life’ grittiness with an artsy flair gets annoying.

The pacing is also off. The character becomes unhinged too quickly. Then we are treated to a never ending scenario of ‘will he or won’t he’ go completely bonkers. There’s about three climaxes too many and a couple of truly unnecessary scenes including a bank robbery, which is particularly dumb.

Star McCamus does his part well, but he also has a really big mole at the top of his forehead, which after a while becomes distracting. Brigitte Bako as the female love interest is pleasant to look at and an overall sweet character. The rest of the characters though are too dull, clichéd, or corrupt to be likable or interesting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1993

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Wellington

Studio: Alliance Communications

Available: DVD

The Silent Partner (1978)

silent partner 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bank teller outsmarts robber.

This is an ingenious, slick, and really fun caper movie that puts a whole new spin on the old bank robbery theme. Here Elliot Gould plays a bank teller named Miles who, by sheer accident, becomes aware that a man named Harry (Christopher Plummer) is planning on robbing his bank. Miles decides to take the money from his till and put it into his lunchbox. Then when Harry robs the bank it is actually Miles the teller that gets the money while Harry goes away with very little. Yet this is only the beginning as Harry and Miles continue to play a crafty game of cat- and-mouse, which leads from one interesting twist to another.

Gould plays against type here and he does quite well. Usually he tends to be loud, argumentative, and anti-authority, but here he is quiet and unassuming. It’s the type of character you think wouldn’t have the guts to pull off what he does, which makes him all the more intriguing. In fact he just keeps surprising you all the way along, stringing the very psychotic and dangerous Harry in ways you couldn’t imagine. It is only his final move that seems to be testing the odds too much.

Plummer makes a terrific adversary. He is dashing and handsome as ever, but with an intensely sinister edge and an icy cold gaze.

Susannah York as Miles’ love interest Julie is wasted. Her character seems thrown in for good measure and at no time seems interesting. There is no chemistry between them and the whole love angle is forced and unnecessary. Celine Lomez, as Elaine the other female character, is different. She is stunningly beautiful and much cagier. She plays between both Harry and Miles and you are never sure which side she is really on. Her acting isn’t spectacular, but she is sensual and has a nice French accent. Her gory and gruesome demise though is unwarranted and works as a drawback to the movie.

There are a few other negatives about the film. One is the drab setting that takes place in Toronto and yet we hardly see any of it. Having the bank itself set inside a boring shopping mall is not too visually exciting. The same goes for Miles’s bland apartment. The supporting characters, especially the other bank employees are incredibly dull. Their lines and basic presence all seem to have been written in simply as ‘filler’. A young John Candy plays one of these co-workers and his comic talents are wasted.

Still the story is creative and has enough unique twists that it overcomes the technical shortcomings and manages to be a highly entertaining flick.

silent partner 1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 7, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: Daryl Duke

Studio: EMC

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966)

dead heat on a merry go round

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbery at an airport.

Eli Kotch (James Coburn) manages to con his way out of jail by playing on the affections of his pretty jailhouse psychiatrist (Marian McCargo). His plans are to rob the bank at the Los Angeles International Airport while they are hosting the arrival of a Soviet Premier, which he figures will sufficiently keep the security personal distracted. The blueprint for the bank will cost him a hefty sum, so to help finance it he travels across the country seducing rich women and making off with their expensive possessions and money. Once the blueprint is purchased he assembles his men and executes the daring and elaborate scheme.

The film, which was written and directed by Bernard Girard, is by all means slick although it goes a bit overboard. The first hour is hard to get into. The filmmakers seem intent to keep the viewer guessing about the Kotch’s motives and intricate plans as the rest of the characters. There is so much cutting back and forth between scenes in L.A. and Boston as well as all the lady victims that Kotch finds that it becomes confusing and off-putting. Everything comes off too easily for our protagonist. I suppose that is the intended charm, but a few hiccups here and there to their plans might have offered more tension and reality.

He also beds too many women almost like he is some sort of modern day Don Juan. Having even just one of them slap him across the face when he makes his advances instead of just robotically disrobing and hopping between the sheets with him would’ve been funny. If this film were to be remade the women characters would have to be updated as here they are simply caricatures of a bygone era.

Camilla Sparv’s character and the way Eli treats here was a particular problem with me. Sparv looks drop-dead gorgeous to the point of being breathtaking. Most men would feel blessed at having such a beautiful woman fall in-love with them, but Eli takes it all for granted. He callously lies to her and uses the genuine feelings she has for him to take advantage of her and use it for his own gain. It gets to the point where Eli starts to come off as a real cad and makes the viewer dislike him. There is a twist at the end involving the Sparv character, but it is not enough. I was really hoping that she would somehow manage to screw-up his plans whether intentional or not, but that doesn’t happen even though it should’ve.

Coburn’s toothy grin and deep laugh manages to carry it and probably no other leading man would’ve been able to pull off this type of part as well. The supporting cast is equally good. Rose Marie is fun in a brief part as an older woman that Eli cons. Severn Darden is effective as the nerdy and smart, but very nervous member of Eli’s group. Nina Wayne is funny as one of Eli’s first female victims, a ditzy blonde filled with very quirky philosophies on just about everything. Yet it is Robert Webber, a very under-rated character actor, who steals the show as the high-strung head of the airport security. You can also spot a young Harrison Ford in a brief bit as a bellhop.

The excellent on-location shooting gives the film an added flair. The shots of the Los Angeles International Airport are good especially the way it captures the iconic and modernistic Theme Building. Images of a wintry Boston during Eli’s jaunts to that city are quite scenic particularly all the tree branches covered with snow.

The film’s final half-hour is captivating and even intense. The editing is excellent and the sheer brazenness of the crime is amusing. There are certain things though that seemed implausible and whether such a plan could be pulled off in real-life is doubtful. Still, if you’re a fan of heist films this should offer two hours of suitably fluffy entertainment, but just don’t think about it too hard.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Bernard Girard

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Bunny O’Hare (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bette becomes a hippie.

Extremely odd Bette Davis vehicle made in her later years when her career had crested and she was forced to be less choosy about her projects. The story has to do with a lonely widow named Bunny O’Hare (Davis) who losses her home to foreclosure and is rendered homeless. She meets an older man named Bill Gruenwald (Ernest Borgnine) who is an escaped bank robber. Together they dress up as hippies and rob banks throughout the state of New Mexico in order to survive.

Davis is exceptional. Usually she plays cold, manipulative characters, but here she gives a perfect, touching performance as a nice old lady. She is terrific in every scene that she is in and the only bright spot in what is otherwise a misfire. Borgnine though seems wasted and thrown in only as a stock character.

The story really has nowhere to go. The intention was to make the film a mixture of social satire and slapstick, but it fails on either end. The novelty wears off quickly and it soon becomes derivative. Initially their ploy to rob the banks seemed clever as Bill releases a bird into the bank, which causes such a distraction that they are able to rob it without detection, but it becomes tiring when it gets played-out again and again. The police are portrayed as being universally bumbling and making it seem like a six-year old could rob a bank and easily get away with it. I also did not like the banjo music being played as they are trying to get away from the cops as it seems too similar to the much better film Bonnie and Clyde and in fact the original title for this movie was going to be ‘Bunny and Claude’.

The casting of Jack Cassidy as Lieutenant Greely, the policeman who becomes obsessed with capturing them, should’ve worked.  He was very adept at playing cold, cunning, slightly offbeat characters as evidenced by his Emmy Award winning performances on the old Columbo TV-show as well as the cult TV-series He and She. He was the husband of actress Shirley Jones and the father of Shaun and David Cassidy whose career was unfortunately cut short when he ended up dying in a fire in 1976 after falling asleep with a lit cigarette. His unique talent here is stifled because the character is portrayed as being unrealistically dimwitted and saps any possible energy from the scenes that he is in.

Actress Joan Delaney makes a terrific addition as his female counterpart R.J. Hart. She is young, attractive, and hip. She plays off of Greely’s old, regimented ways quite well and it is a shame that, with the exception of a very brief appearance in the 1991 comedy Scenes From a Mall, this ended up being her last film.

The New Mexico landscape is nice, but I got the feeling that the location shooting had not been scouted out sufficiently. The police station didn’t look authentic at all. It seemed like scenes where shot in any building that they were able to attain a film permit. The lighting consists of one bright spotlight put on the subject while the sides of the frame and the background are dark and shadowy. Sometimes, in a good movie, this is done for artistic effect, but here I felt it was more because that was all they could afford. This one is for Bette Davis completest only.

Well known character actors John Astin and Reva Rose appear as Bunny’s two grown children, but are essentially wasted. The then acting governor of New Mexico, David Cargo, plays one of the state troopers.  Larry Linville, who would later become famous for playing Major Frank Burns on the classic TV-series M*A*S*H, can be seen very briefly at the end, but has no lines of dialogue.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gerd Oswald

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: Netflix Streaming

Straight Time (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Parolee can’t go straight.

Straight Time is an engrossing, highly realistic drama detailing a parolee by the name of Max Dembo (Dustin Hoffman) who gets released from prison and cannot seem to stay away from the allure of crime despite his initial efforts. The movie is based on the novel ‘No Beast So Fierce’ by Edward Bunker.  Bunker himself was a career criminal who was in and out of jail from 1955 to 1975 and only managed to finally turn his life around when this novel, which he had written while incarcerated and deals with many of his own exploits, got published. Bunker co-wrote the screenplay and appears in a bit part playing a character with a really bad comb-over by the name of Mickey.

I found this film gripping from the second it started and infinitely fascinating the more it progressed. It gives you a whole new perspective on things as you are forced to see it from the viewpoint of the criminal and as an outsider looking in. Every facet of the story and characters is believable and the film does a very good job of being stark and searing without ever getting exploitive, or overtly shocking.  I remember back in 1977 when I toured the new county jail in the town where I grew up when it was first opened and before it housed any inmates. I remember the officer describing the rather degrading procedures all felons had to go through when they were first booked including being stripped searched and forced to take a shower nude while a fully clothed officer stood by and watched them.  The scene where Max and other criminals are ‘welcomed’ to the L.A. County jail worked exactly like that. It was so authentic and frank that it seemed almost like a documentary.

The essence of the story revolves around Max and his relationship with his parole officer Earl Frank that is wonderfully played by noted character actor M. Emmet Walsh. Earl does his job a little too well. He shows a constant distrust of Max and gives him no respect while overzealously tracking his every move until it finally forces Max to snap. It is a terrific indictment on the flawed system as it examines just how hard it is for the criminal to go straight and stay straight even if they want to. It also exposes how it seems almost designed to push the person back into crime in its refusal to ever treat the criminal as a human being. The part where Max finally has enough and overpowers Earl and chains him naked to a fence in broad daylight on a busy L.A. freeway while hundreds of cars drive by him should leave an indelible image on the minds of anyone who sees it.

The remaining supporting cast is great as well. Theresa Russell is surprisingly effective as Max’s girlfriend Jenny Mercer. Usually she has played more glamorous types of roles, but here she is perfect as a very ordinary woman who inadvertently gets caught up in Max’s eventual self-destruction until she finds herself in over her head.  I liked the fact that she wore no makeup and the camera was able to pick up her natural beauty through regular lighting. The only issue I had with her character is that it is never made clear why she would fall in love with Max so quickly and what it was about him that she liked since he shows some clear destructive tendencies right from the beginning. To me it just came off as a bit forced and phony to have an otherwise well-adjusted woman that he meets at an employment agency get so infatuated with him after just one date that she immediately agrees to move in with him, visit him in jail, and even quit her job on the spot and go on the run. I know it is standard practice in a Hollywood film for the anti-hero to always have ‘his girl’ that can be used to humanize and compliment him, but there still needs to be more of an explanation and history shown to her character in order to validate the relationship.

Harry Dean Stanton gives another great performance as Jerry Schue. He was a long-time partner to Max during the robberies he did before landing in prison. Jerry has now turned his life around. He has a nice house in the suburbs, an honest job, and a beautiful wife. However, when Max comes to visit, and the minute his wife leaves the room, Jerry begs him for a crime job that they can do together because he finds his new found life to be boring.  I thought this made a great statement as to how the sterile suburban existence is not the American dream for everyone and how it will not necessarily ‘domesticate’ those that still harbor a reckless urge.  I also found it interesting how Jerry views the art of robbery as an actual profession that he takes a great deal of pride and care in. When one of the men shows up late for a planned robbery Jerry calls him ‘unprofessional’.

The robbery scenes are filmed in a diverting way. In most films the camera gets real close to the action in order to heighten the tension. Here the action is captured from a long shot that allows the viewer to see just how chaotic and frantic a robbery really is as well as showing how the most nervous people in the place are the thieves themselves.

If I have one complaint with the film it is in the fact that the second hour becomes rather difficult to watch as it focuses solely on the self-destructive downward spiral of the main character. Max has some good qualities, which makes it all the more painful to watch. Yes, some of his anger is justified, but his insistence at ‘evening the score’ with everyone who has wronged him ends up only hurting himself. Hoffman is outstanding as usual. It is interesting to compare his role here playing a very violent character with the pacifist one that he played just seven years earlier in Sam Peckinpah’s classic Straw Dogs.

If you are looking for an intelligent, searing drama that is still relevant today then this no-holds-bar character study is highly recommended.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 18, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ulu Grosbard

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Money for sex change.

Dog Day Afternoon is a 1975 film based on a true story that took place on August 22, 1972.  It tells the tale of a man by the name of John Wojtowicz, who robbed a Brooklyn bank in order to pay for his gay lover’s sex change operation.  Here the character’s name has been altered slightly to John ‘Sonny’ Wortzik (played by Al Pacino), but otherwise this Oscar-winning script by Frank Pierson pretty much sticks closely to the actual events in this incredible saga about everything that can go wrong will.

Just about everyone who has watched this film will tell you how it manages to grab and pull you in right from the start.  It achieves this without having any special effects, pounding soundtrack, elaborate camera work, or artificial lighting.  Instead of ‘telegraphing all of its punches’ the film draws back and puts more emphasis on the little subtitles like the character’s facial expressions, side conversations, and other nuances that put together make this film very rich and textured.   In essence it successfully ‘shows’ instead of ‘tells’, which is a remarkable achievement since so many Hollywood films seem to want to do the exact opposite.

Director Sidney Lumet allowed for a lot of improvisation by his actors and gave each performer full rein on how to create their character, even the minor supporting ones. The result gives each and every one of the characters a distinct personality. The bank hostages become almost as fascinating as the thieves and it is interesting seeing all the different ways each one responds to the situation and how they interact with the robbers, which at times is both amusing and surprising.

The film also vividly captures 1970’s Brooklyn atmosphere. The sights and sounds of the area as well as the people’s personalities and the anti-establishment sentiment that was still quite prevalent at the time are all right on target.  After you finish watching this movie you feel like you just got back from a trip over there.  I really liked how during the opening credits you are shown all sorts of shots and scenes of Brooklyn, so by the time the story actually begins you are already well entrenched in the setting.

Pacino gives a dynamic performance in the starring role.  Some insist this is the best performance never to be nominated for an Oscar and I might have to agree.  If you are a Pacino fan than you absolutely have to see this, but if you are not a Pacino fan you still should see it because afterwards you might become one.

The supporting cast is stellar.  Sully Boyar, who was a real-life lawyer who did not enter into acting until he was in his 50’s, leaves a strong impression as the stoic bank manager.  As the police captain, the always durable Charles Durning is a blast especially during his frenzied and frantic negotiations with Pacino that almost become the film’s highlight. Another memorable moment is the improvised phone conversation between Sonny and his gay lover played by Chris Sarandon.  John Cazale is also amazing as Pacino’s bank robbing partner.  The partner in the actual incident was only 18 while Cazale was then 39, which created some controversy. However, Cazale is so convincing in the part that it is hard to imagine anyone else doing it as well.

In the end the film’s brilliance comes from its ability to convey the humanity of its characters. You can’t help but feel for the Sonny character despite his many flaws.  This a man who craves acceptance and yet goes through life being betrayed and hurt by everyone he meets. The shocked expression he shows at being betrayed by his own hostages, who he felt he had ‘bonded’ with, is, in my opinion, the most memorable shot of the whole film.

I only have two negative comments about this film and they are both minor.  One is the abrupt ending.  Since the film was made only a few years after the incident there wasn’t much of an epilogue to the characters.  The real John Wojtowicz, who really did look a lot like Pacino, didn’t end up dying until the year 2006.  It would have been a stronger conclusion by showing what happened to the Sonny character through the years and maybe even how he might of changed or grown.  My only other complaint is the fact that actress Carol Kane appears as one of the bank employees, but is shown very little.  A quirky and unique talent such as hers should have been given a bigger role.

Overall this is a great movie that I would recommend to any serious movie fan who can appreciate great film-making in top form.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (2-Disc Special Edition), Blu-ray, HDDVD, Amazon Instant Video