Polished Performances

Actor: Al Pacino
• Character: Sonny Wortzik
Film: Dog Day Afternoon

Al Pacino is one of those actors that has delivered so many memorable performances that it’s difficult to pin down his best work. People’s opinions vastly differ in what his strongest performance is but there’s not many who can deny that some of his best came from the 1970’s. His role as bank-robber Sonny Wortzik in Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon in 1975 is, without doubt, a real highlight in Pacino’s shining career.

Based on a the real-life story of John Wojtowicz who, in 1972, walked into a Chase Manhattan Bank in Brooklyn and attempted to steal thousands of dollars to fund his boyfriend’s sex-change operation. He, and his accomplice, held nine bank employees hostage for 14 hours but the plan was doomed from the beginning and even though he quickly became aware of this, he used his wits to try and work out a deal that wouldn’t put himself or anyone else in jeopardy.

The part of Sonny was written with Pacino in mind but having just finished shooting on The Godfather part II, it left Pacino, in his own words, “Exhausted and infinitely depressed” and he had no desire to work on a role that would require him to invest a lot of emotional anxiety. Disappointed, Sidney Lumet and screenwriter Frank Pierson then sent the script to Dustin Hoffman. It’s a part that Hoffman could have excelled at and being a screen rival in method acting at this time in American cinema, Pacino didn’t like the idea of Hoffman stealing his thunder. As a result, he changed his mind and decided to accept. It would result in, not only, one of the best performances Pacino has ever given but also one of the best from the decade itself.

The energy and events of the film move between absurdity and tragedy and Pacino’s hugely effective range moves along with it. It’s at once frantic and fast paced before settling down to a claustrophobic chamber piece and Pacino is rarely offscreen throughout it’s entirety. When the camera is on him, we experience the absolute stress this man is under; the panic in his eyes, his nervous ticks and the sweat on his brow. It’s a simmering and captivating performance that fully captures the enormity of Sonny’s predicament.During production, Pacino reportedly only slept a couple hours a night, ate very little and would sometimes take cold showers in order to emphasize Sonny’s disheveled, exhausted and yet wired appearance. However, halfway through production, Pacino collapsed from exhaustion and had to be hospitalized for a short time. After the film was completed, he decided to stop doing films for a while and return to stage work.

It could be said that Pacino’s detrimental concerns on accepting the role were correct but if he hadn’t taken it then we, as viewers, wouldn’t witness one of the screen greats delivering, arguably, his finest work.

Oscars? – As Best Actor, Pacino received his third Oscar nomination in a row for Dog Afternoon. He had previously been nominated for Serpico and The Godfather part II but he was also competing against Jack Nicholson who was also on his third Best Actor nomination in a row following The Last Detail, Chinatown and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Ultimately, it was a fight between the two in the 1976 awards but Nicholson came out on top for Cuckoo’s Nest.

(For more Polished Performances give this a click)

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42 Responses to “Polished Performances”

  1. He really is extraordinary in this, and you’d think he had to have won an Oscar for this, surely. But…no. Robbery.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice analysis Mark. It’s easy to poke fun of Pacino these days but I truly do consider him one of the best actors of all time and this is one of his finest and most emotional roles. And though I’m a Hoffman fan, I doubt he could have given as good as a performance as Pacino

    On another note, I’m really excited that Scorsese’s Irishman is finally going through now. The combination of Scorsese with De Niro and Pacino may make it the most anticipated movie of my lifetime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Both DeNiro and Pacino have done their great reputations no favours these days, Charles. But the work they done in 70’s truly is some of the best that’s ever been. I’d say this is my favourite from Pacino. He’s really is terrific. I can actually see Hoffman pulling it off but I’m glad Al went for it.

      I’m with you on The Irishman too. I hear that Pesci could be dropping out but if Al, Bob and Marty take it forward then that’s more than enough for me. I’m very excited about that as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, De Niro and Pacino have certainly been lenient when it comes to picking out scripts to say the least but within the 70s and 80s they ruled Hollywood.

        I hope both Pesci and Harvey Keitel stick with the project, but either way it’s practically impossible not to be excited by The Irishman.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Is Keitel supposed to be involved? I didn’t know that but I have always hoped he would. That would just top it off me. I’m a big Harvey fan.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I heard he’s in talks to co-star in the movie. I’m a big Keitel fan as well and have always loved his stuff with Scorsese. I just can’t wait for this film to be made.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fantastic news. I’d be happy with just a reunion of Scorsese, DeNiro and Keitel. Mean Streets and Taxi Driver are two of Marty’s best films but with Pacino and a possible Pesci, what’s not to get excited about? There’s a potential classic on the cards here.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Attica! Attica! This is an excellent film and definitely one of Pacino’s best roles, you can’t take your eyes off him and he’s very funny at times. Cazale gives him the floor and let’s him go! I never knew about him collapsing mid-shoot…fascinating stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it’s surprising how much humour Pacino gets across, man. It’s a superb performance and apparently he done a lot of improvisation with the “Attica” scene being one of them.

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      • I think he’s better here than in the two Godfather films…just putting it out there!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Put it out there, man. I’d agree with you. This is Pacino’s finest performance in my eyes. I reserve the right to change my mind further down the line but I can’t see past this at the moment.

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      • Hard to think of anything better off the top of my head, although obviously he’s very good in the first two Godfathers. Not bad in the third, either! I suppose he’s really good fun to watch in Scarface and Heat but there’s even more shouting in those films than there is here; within Heat it’s offset by the fact there are lots of other things happening that don’t involve him, and some pretty strong characters elsewhere. Great in Donnie Brasco and Carlito’s Way, too, but they’re not quite up there with this one. Did you catch Manglehorn or Danny Collins from last year? Not quite a return to form in either case, but he’s decent in both of them. Hoo-ha!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree on almost everything you say here, Stu. All the The Godfathers are very strong work. Carlitos Way and Donnie Brasco are probably the last time he really hit the right notes. Scarface is over the top but soooo good to watch. It’s probably his most iconic and I love it. Heat was one that didn’t work for me, though. I love the film and Pacino is acceptable but I think DeNiro’s reserved performance towers above Pacino. Al became a caricature of himself and I wasn’t overly keen.

        Seen Manglehorn and I quite liked it but not caught Danny Collins yet. Over all, though, it is hard to see past Dog Day Afternoon.
        Hoo-ha! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoy this series, Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. He’s definitely great in this. The performance is older than I am, but who doesn’t know it immediately?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is actually right up there on my watch list! I just need to get to it. I always liked Pacino’s work.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My education continues. That’s pretty incredible of Pacino to go that deeply method to the point of literal collapse. Pacino, what a beast of an actor he is. Love this feature sir!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s no doubt that Pacino is truly one of the greatest. It’s been a while since we saw him really light the screen up but in his day, he really was something else.

      Thanks buddy. This feature looks like it’s here to stay. Keep meaning to start up my older ones too but I’m finding the performances one very enjoyable at the moment. It doesn’t seem like a chore.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great work here Mark, From what I’ve seen Pacino was on fire in the 70’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Vinnie. He done great work in the 80’s and 90’s too but the 70’s is where he really shone. It’s a shame that the likes of him and DeNiro do their great reputations no favours these days.

      Liked by 1 person

      • He is one of my favourite actors and has so many great performances to his name. I hope he finds some good roles soon though, instead of some of the abysmal garbage he’s been in lately.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s exactly how I feel about DeNiro. He’s my favourite and it breaks my heart that a current generation of filmgoers take his crappy comedies as a measure of what he’s capable of. Here’s hoping Scorsese’s The Irishman can give them both the roles they so throughly need and deserve at this late stage in their careers. One more shot at proving their worth.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sure both of them will come back with glory.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I believe so. It’s all a matter of they choose to work with and recently their choices have been quite poor.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Great trivia Mark. Pacino, like DeNiro, was a damned god in the 70s. Man, this is a work of furious brilliance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Mark. “Furious brilliance” is the perfect way to describe Pacino here. It’s one of those performances that really solidified his strength in the 70’s. Like DeNiro, it was performance after strong performance that very few could match. Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman were also a notable couple. Man, why was the 70’s so great for American actors? Absolutely sublime!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. My dad has been telling me to watch this for ages. This confirms it, and I’m pretty sure he has a copy too. Score! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a very big score, bro. I dig your dad’s style. Listen to him. This is a fabulous film with a fabulous central performance. I wager that you won’t be disappointed. 🙂

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      • I’m gonna get him to drop it off when he next pops over for a visit 😀

        And he does have a great taste in film. He’s always telling me to watch certain westerns, The Magnificent Seven, Wild Bunch, heaps of old Aussie movies too.

        He msged me yesterday and said he loved The Gift. He has good taste indeed ;D

        Liked by 1 person

      • Make a point of getting from him, man. It’s worth it. I enjoy a good western myself too. The Wild Bunch is great but it’s been a while. I was bigger fan of Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid but that’s predominantly cause I love the Bob Dylan soundtrack. Dylan, himself, in the film is pretty dire, though. 😉

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      • The only Peckinpah movie I have seen by Straw Dogs. Someone told me it was a Polanski movie which is why I watched it. Obviously not Polanski but I can see why he thought that! What a fucked up movie that was

        Liked by 1 person

      • I wasn’t a fan of Straw Dogs, man. I found it a bit tough. That said, I often find Peckinpah someone that’s needs a few viewings. I don’t often like his films on a first viewing.

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      • Yeah I was a bit confronted by it too. A second watch though and yeah, I really liked it, especially the last act.

        Liked by 1 person

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