Forty years ago yesterday there was a little bank robbery in Brooklyn that took New York City -- and later Hollywood -- by storm, and for the first time since the real-life event that inspired Al Pacino's Dog Day Afternoon, the FBI agent who put an end to it remembers the ordeal in a television interview for NBC New York.
On August 22, 1972, John Wojtowicz and Sal Naturile entered a Chase Manhattan Bank on Avenue P and held the joint up, the duo packing heat in the form of a shotgun, a rifle and a handgun. The bizarre, circus-like standoff lasted for several hours, with Wojtowicz (who insisted he needed the cash to pay for his gay lover's sex-change operation) quickly transitioning from a bad guy to a hero for the people -- continually going outside to speak and throw money to the gathered onlookers, while the hostages actually began rooting for their captors as if they were all on the same team.
Note: The following clip is NSFW
Eventually the duo demanded they be driven along with the hostages to the airport, where they planned on boarding a plane and leaving the country. Wojtowicz (played by Pacino in the film) requested agent James Murphy (played by a young Lance Henriksen in the film) be the driver, and once they reached a secluded area of the airport -- with Naturile (John Cazale in the film) pointing a shotgun at Murphy's head -- the former FBI agent devised a plan that would put an end to the ordeal by using a hidden gun inside the car.
Murphy explains what happened next, "In less than a second, I swerve, push the shotgun into the ceiling, which as I do that Sal goes up to hang on to it and as he’s hanging on to it, I take one shot and catch him in the chest." As that happened, another agent reached through the car window and took hold of Wojtowicz, who was arrested and later served 14 years in prison, dying of cancer in 2006.
Here's an image of Wojtowicz from the real-life robbery, via the NY Daily News
Sidney Lumet's 1975 film about the robbery featured one of Al Pacino's greatest performances, with the film -- as well as Pacino -- receiving six Oscar nominations and one win (for Frank Pierson's original screenplay). That year Jack Nicholson beat out Pacino for best actor with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next, but this writer always thought Pacino was robbed (no pun intended). His portrayal of the wild and desperate Wojtowicz is intense and addictive, weaving in and out of emotions to the point where it seemed like he played multiple characters throughout the film.
Here's the famous "Attica" scene from the film with Sidney Lumet discussing it via commentary (NSFW)
To this day Dog Day Afternoon holds up as one of the greatest films based on a real-life New York story. Pacino's performance is electric, and Lumet's direction is brilliant. In the NBC video Murphy says he later went to see the film and was surprised to find the audience boo when Sal (Cazale) was shot at the end. That's just a testament to Lumet, who, in the process of telling the story of bank robbers and their hostages, took the audience hostage as well and made us care deeply for a couple of punks from Brooklyn.