The True Story Behind Dog Day Afternoon

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Dog Day Afternoon was the second collaboration between Al Pacino and director Sidney Lumet – the first being the Oscar-nominated Serpico.

With a budget of less than $400 thousand, the film was shot over six weeks in Brooklyn. But the biggest challenge was conveying the realism behind the story that was inspired by true events.

 “No major star that I know of had ever played a gay man,” Lumet recalled. "His talent is just blinding. There are no difficulties… Al is a perfectionist. I guess I'm pretty tough that way too," Lumet said.

And the respect is mutual. “He leaves a great legacy, but more than that, to the people close to him, he will remain the most civilized of humans and the kindest man I have ever known,” Pacino said of the director.

Dog Day Afternoon won an Oscar for Best Screenplay and also earned five other nominations for Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture.

1. It was inspired by a true story.

Al Pacino's fictional character Sonny Wortzik was based on John Wojtowicz, who robbed $213,000 from a bank under the same circumstances. "It's an extraordinary story… Two men who were amateurs, and had never done anything like this before, got stuck with twelves hostages without wanting them," Lumet said. The film went into production while Wojtowicz (nicknamed “The Dog”) was in prison.

2. It was cold.

While the film takes place in the summer, they actually filmed in the fall. In order to conceal the cold temperatures, the actors actually chewed on ice to keep their hot breath from showing condensation. Despite the temperatures, the film drew large crowds – even outnumbering the 400-500 extras. Lumet said, “…the whole neighborhood would be there. They loved it."

3. Pacino improvised.

One of the pivotal scenes in the film is when Pacino’s character yells “Attica!” The line wasn’t originally in the script and came about thanks to a suggestion by the assistant director. Pacino recalled, “…you get that whole Attica scene, because an AD whispered in my ear as I’m going out a door.” Improvisation was also used when rehearsing, and the parts that worked were typed up and used in the final script.

4. Pacino made two cast suggestions.

"She was Al's idea," Lumet said of casting Judith Malina as Pacino’s mother. However, the team had a hard time tracking down the actress. Her phone number was disconnected, so eventually they found her by connecting with a theatre she performed at. Lumet said, "Well, let me tell you, she is an actress. Totally professional. She also had no money, and we had to pay her fare from Vermont, but she walked in and was perfect." Pacino also helped John Cazale get his part, despite that role originally being meant for an 18 year old.