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Laramie Movie Scope: The Dog

A bank full of interesting characters

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 18, 2015 -- This is a documentary film about the real life characters behind the film “Dog Day Afternoon.” The main character is the late John Stanley Wojtowicz (he died Jan. 2, 2006) who robbed a bank on August 22, 1972 in Brooklyn, New York. In the movie “Dog Day Afternoon,” a bank robber character based on John was played by Al Pacino.

The botched 1972 bank robbery by John, Salvatore Naturale (who was shot and killed in this event) and Robert Westenberg (who ran away before the standoff with police started) made the national news because of the drawn-out hostage situation, John's strange antics and the bizarre nature of John's demands. John said the reason for the holdup was to get money to finance a sex change operation for his male spouse, Ernest Aron (known later as Elizabeth Debbie Eden, who died in 1987). Elizabeth Debbie Eden disputes John's version of the story.

John, filmed over a 10-year period before his death (cancer) is the star of his own show. A very flamboyant character, he talks about the loves of his life, and there were many, heterosexual, homosexual and transgendered. John is described by others in the film as either gay, straight or bisexual. He doesn't shy away from the gay label himself, although he was married to a woman, Carmen Bifulco (who also appears in this film) and had two children by her. John was an early gay rights activist and participated in one of the early gay weddings in New York, when he (illegally) married Earnest Aron.

After the bank robbery, John married again, to another man, George Heath, in prison. Heath, a jailhouse lawyer, is credited with giving John the legal help he needed to have his sentence reduced. Heath said in the film he felt sorry for John, a small man who was badly beaten by inmates. Heath, who carried a knife in prison, said he protected John from further beatings.

While John's story about being an early gay activist is backed by others in the movement, including gay activist Jeremiah Newton. Other elements of his story are disputed by people who knew him. John's mother, Theresa Basso Wojtowicz, who is quite a character herself, has her own version of events. She is described in the film as the real love of John's life. He died at her home. John's brother, Tony Wojtowicz, also appears in the film.

John Wojtowicz is a fascinating character, which is probably why there have been two other films about him (besides this one and “Dog Day Afternoon.” The other two are “ The Third Memory” (2000) and “Based on a True Story” (2005). If you thought the situation in “Dog Day Afternoon” was strange, wait until you see this. It is stranger than fiction. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)