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 MORETTI Behind 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 CROWDS straining 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 SYLVIA as 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 SONNY hearing 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 MORETTI unhappy, looking around at Sheldon, who shrugs. He did what he had to do. ON SONNY Suddenly 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]