The Boys in the Bank
November 18, 2005 1:12 PM   Subscribe

The Boys in the Bank. On August 22, 1972, John Wojtowicz (27) and Salvatore Naturale (18), supposedly inspired by The Godfather, held up a Brooklyn branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank and held eight bank employees hostage for 14 hours. The incident inspired a Life magazine article (linked previously; scroll down; alternate link) that inspired the 1973 movie Dog Day Afternoon (script/(IMDB). "'I'm supposed to hate you guys, but I've had more laughs tonight than I've had in weeks,' bank manager Barret tells John Wojtowicz." [more inside, including spoilers]
posted by kirkaracha (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The FBI captured Wojtowicz and killed Naturale while escorting them to a fake getaway at Kennedy Airport. Wojtowicz sentenced to 20 years in prison and was released after serving seven years. He was trying to get money for his lover, Ernest Aron (26), to have a sex change operation. He got $7500 for the movie rights and gave $2500 to Aron, who became Liz Eden. Eden died in 1987; Wojtowicz lives with his mother in Brooklyn.

Photos of John Wojtowicz's wedding and Ernest Aron arriving at the scene. Photo of John Wojtowicz at the bank.

The hostages experienced what would later become known as "Stockholm Syndrome," which is named after a similar bank robbery that happened almost exactly a year later. Wojtowicz's yelling "Attica! Attica!" was inspired by the Attica prison riots the previous year.

The Life article described John Wojtowicz as "a dark, thin fellow with the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or a Dustin Hoffman." (Al Pacino, who says he hasn't made a good film since, played him in the movie.) Wojtowicz wrote the New York Times from prison to tell his story and complain about the movie, but thought Al Pacino and Chris Sarandon deserved Oscars (they were both nominated but didn't win).

The story also inspired an audio-visual installation, The Third Memory (IMDB) and a documentary, Based on a True Story (IMDB). The Third Memory features a split-screen mix of footage John Wojtowicz reenacting the robbery and original TV coverage. "So get this, Wojtowicz played himself in a re-make of Pacino playing Wojtowicz which was an interpretation of an article that was biased against Wojtowicz from the start; very weird." Based on a True Story has footage of Oscar-winning Dog Day Afternoon screenwriter Frank Pierson (who co-wrote the Life article) meeting Wojtowicz.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:12 PM on November 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

There's a special edition of Dog Day Afternoon coming out soon on DVD.
posted by keswick at 1:18 PM on November 18, 2005

These damned one-link FPPs really burn me up.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:28 PM on November 18, 2005

But seriously, the Mrs and I saw Dog Day Afternoon just a few weeks ago, so this is a neat post to see. Fascinating stuff.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:29 PM on November 18, 2005

I had no idea Dog Day Afternoon was based on a real incident. That was one of the best depressing movies I've ever seen.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:29 PM on November 18, 2005

I knew about the payment-for-sex-change angle, but is Aron being brought directly from the operating table?
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:35 PM on November 18, 2005

Great movie. I didn't know any of this. Coolness.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:43 PM on November 18, 2005

Excellent post, kirkaracha.

I'm amazed folks didn't know this was a true incident. Doesn't it say at the head or tale of the movie?

In my teens I had the sneak preview poster of this film on my wall and it was essentially a blowup of the original article and I guess I just assumed it was common knowledge.
posted by dobbs at 1:52 PM on November 18, 2005

Is it just me or does he look a bit like Ed Norton?
posted by muppetboy at 1:57 PM on November 18, 2005

Just saw this movie for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I don't know if it's the best thing Pacino's ever done, but it was damned close.

Also, humperdink did a great job as Aron.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 2:15 PM on November 18, 2005

Nice post. Meta-inspired?
posted by shoepal at 2:51 PM on November 18, 2005

Kluge teaches at my college. He's a mensch.
posted by bardic at 3:42 PM on November 18, 2005

is Aron being brought directly from the operating table?
The holdup was on a Tuesday. The Friday before, Aron had taken enough barbituates to be rushed to the hospital.

Is it just me or does he look a bit like Ed Norton?
A little bit, yeah. His picture reminded me of someone, but I couldn't place it. And Liz Eden looks like Tuesday Weld to me.

More like Meta-prompted. I'd run across most of the links a couple of months ago, but that thread prompted me to put a post together.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:24 PM on November 18, 2005

Thanks for this, kirkaracha. As it turns out, I published that article The New York Times wouldn't, 30 years ago, and never knew they were involved until now. I guess they didn't have the same journalistic ethics I did. (Or vice versa.)

Back in the day, as the kids say, when I was the cultural editor of a weekly paper in Harrisburg PA, I reviewed Dog Day Afternoon and got a letter not long afterwards from John W. himself, who was in prison at the federal pen at Lewisburg about 60 miles away. (He never told me how he saw my review, but we had a policy back then of giving any prisoner who wanted one a free subscription, and maybe one of his friends had a copy.)

John said he liked my review and wondered if I would print an article he'd written described how he felt about the movie, and his life in general, and I wrote back and said, sure, say whatever you want. He mailed us some personal photos to run with the article, and we corresponded a few times after that, but I never did actually meet him.

Anyway, I recommend the movie. I haven't seen Pacino much lately but I saw all his movies back then, and I think this is his best. He's incredible, but he was up for the Academy Award that year ('75, not '73) against Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Pacino's buddy (both on-screen and off) John Cazale is equally good.

Off-topic: I came across something about Cazale a few weeks ago that amazed me. He only appeared in five feature films during his unfortunately short life, and every one was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Five for five! I hated The Deer Hunter (although not him in it), but the other four are brilliant.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:24 PM on November 18, 2005

Neat, lelilo!

And agreed on Cazale. He was always terrific.
posted by dobbs at 10:42 PM on November 18, 2005

Fantastic post, kirkaracha. And lelilo, very cool that you were involved.
posted by mediareport at 4:52 PM on November 19, 2005

« Older An iTunes For The Rest Of Us?   |   Answer this, Tom Cruise Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments