There’s not a single failed scene in “Dog Day Afternoon,” but the film’s most famous moment comes when Wortzik teases the crowd with a chant of “Attica!” What’s more impressive is that the scene was improvised (via audiovisual club).
Less than a year before Wojctowicz and Naturile entered this bank, nearly 1,300 inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility staged an uprising to demand improved prisoner rights. At that time, the conditions were incredibly harsh:
“Prisoners spent 14 to 16 hours a day in their cells, their mail read, their reading materials restricted, family visits made through a fence, their disgraceful medical care, their unfair parole system, racism everywhere.”
The standoff lasted four days until Governor Norman Rockefeller ordered the police to retake the prison. When the shooting stopped, 39 people lay dead – 29 detainees and 10 hostages. In the process, the authorities tried to blame the majority of the violence on the prisoners. Still, this wasn’t just a case of the police putting down a riot, it was a massacre (via The Marshall Project):
“A soldier emptied his .357 magnum pistol on a prisoner named Kenneth B. Malloy…Malloy, an autopsy later showed, was shot twelve times at close range by at least two rifles. He was hit by so many of bullets… ‘that his eye sockets were shredded by the shards of his own bones.'”
News of the massacre sparked riots in 13 other prisons, and a radical left-wing activist organization called Weather Underground detonated a bomb near the office of Russell Oswald, state commissioner of corrections. In response to the upheaval, the New York State Department of Corrections implemented several changes to make life a little less grim for prisoners. Many of the changes were undone over the following decades, and nearly half a century later, Attica remains synonymous with police brutality and abuse of power (via NYT):
“[Inmates] cited Attica as the most fearsome place they have ever been held, a facility where a small group of corrections officers hand out harsh punishments largely with impunity. Those who were still confined there spoke of it with concern. If cited by name, retaliation was certain, they said.”
Sonny mutters darkly about Attica before carrying out his incendiary rant on the pavement. With the massacre fresh on everyone’s mind, he fears the police will be eager to take him down, whether or not the hostages are caught in the crossfire.