Great Scene: “Dog Day Afternoon”

The stand-off. One of the most popular, recurring beats in cinematic history. And why not? There’s typically tension galore — guns waving, people screaming, threats being made. Perhaps the most memorable stand-off in recent movie history is this great scene from Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Written by award-winning screenwriter Frank Pierson, the scene finds Sonny (Al Pacino) outside a bank in which he’s holding several employees hostage in a bungled robbery. Negotiating with Sonny is police Detective Moretti (Charles Durning).

ON MORETTIBehind him a mob scene.  Howard is being led away, weeping.  
Photographers, cops, a phalanx of cops have their weapons
levelled on Sonny like a firing squad. It is right on the
edge of violence... of blowing up. Sonny and Sylvia are in
the shelter of the doorway, Moretti stands on the sidewalk,
looking toward Sonny inside the bank.
MORETTI
Sonny - come out here a minute.
At this point, he removes his jacket and drops it to the
ground, showing Sonny that he is unarmed.
SONNY
You got these cops outta here.
They're comin' in too close.
MORETTI
Come on. I want you to see something.
SONNY
You want me to give up, huh? Look,
Sal's in back with the girls.
Anything happens to me - one move -
and Sal gives it to them. Boom boom.
How do I know you won't jump me?
MORETTI
I don't forget about Sal and the
boom boom room. I want you to see
this.
Sonny turns back to tell Sal he's going outside. Moretti
stands well out in the street, to reassure Sonny nobody is
going to try to jump him. Sonny stares around; he nudges
Sylvia out ahead of him. As they edge into sight of the
Media across the street:
NEWSMEN AND PHOTOGRAPHERS
Out in the light. Hey, Lady! You're
on TV, Lady! Smile, any... god
damn thing...
ANGLES - SHOWING CROWDSstraining against police lines: this is where we begin to
sense the size of the event. People are eating popsicles
and ice cream. They are diverted and excited. Sonny and
Sylvia begin to emerge: CATCALLS and HOOTS of greeting...
CLOSER - SONNY AND SYLVIAas he looks around, and the impact of his situation really
hits him: he's not only totally surrounded, he's an event.
Some of the crowd CHEER him. An army of Cops, and guns all
levelled on Sonny.
MORETTI
Let Sal come out, take a look. What
hope you got? Quit while you're
ahead. All you got is attempted
robbery.
SONNY
...armed robbery...
MORETTI
Well, armed, then. Nobody's been
hurt. Release the hostages, nobody
is gonna worry over kidnapping
charges, the worst you're gonna get
is five years -- you can be out in a
year.
Sonny stares at him, his face utterly blank.SONNY
Kiss me.
Moretti stops, stares back.MORETTI
What?
SONNY
(deadpan)
When I'm bein' fucked, I like to be
kissed a lot.
(bursting out)
Who the fuck are you tryin' to con
me into some deal? You're a city
cop, where's the FBI? This is a
federal offense, I got kidnapping,
armed robbery, they're gonna bury
me! You know it, you can't talk for
them, you're some flunky pig tryin'
to bullshit me. Now God damn it,
get somebody in charge here to talk
to me!
MORETTI
Calm down, you're not...
SONNY
Calm down... look at this, look at
him...!
Gestures at the cops, the wall of rifles and machine guns
levelled on him. It is incredible and terrifying...
SONNY
(continuing)
They wanna kill me so bad they can
taste it!
He takes a defiant step into the street. The crowd SCREAMS
as they get their first view, which is of Sonny telling the
Cops off. They don't need to hear the words, they can see
it.
SONNY
(screaming)
Attica! Attica! Go ahead! Blow
off the front of the whole God damn
bank!
He holds his hands wide offering himself as a target to the
hulking officer.
SONNY
(to the TV)
If it wasn't for you guys they'd
kill everybody and say it was me and
Sal.
(to Moretti)
You tell 'em to put the guns down.
I can't stand it.
He means it. Moretti gestures to the officers to back away,
lower the guns. The crowd YELLS: Sonny has beat the Cops.
He is momentarily their hero.It's a breaking point. Moretti makes a decision.MORETTI
(Cop language command
to put gun away)
All right - put the guns down!
He has to YELL it twice before the Cop slowly, angrily, stuffs
the gun into his holster.
SOUND: The crowd screams.ON SONNYhearing the Crowd APPLAUSE. He turns and grins and waves to
them. They SCREAM more. He turns and waves to the media.
They've been YELLING.
MEDIA
Hey, over here! Give us a wave!
It is at this point that newsman leans out a window of the
second floor of the bank, quickly lowering a mike boom.
Sylvia sees this above her head.ON MORETTIunhappy, looking around at Sheldon, who shrugs. He did what
he had to do.
ON SONNYSuddenly realizing what control he has, enjoying it. He
turns mockingly his left and his right profile to cameras.

Beyond the inherent tension between Sonny and Moretti, what makes the scene memorable is the surprising twist — “Attica! Attica!” — which effectively shifts the power from the cops to the robbers. Here’s the scene from the movie:

Great scene from a great movie Dog Day Afternoon.

[Originally posted June 5, 2009]

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