Black Sunday (1977)

Black Sunday (1977)


Dahlia Iyad (Marthe Keller, Marathon Man) is a Palestinian agent who has enlisted wacky Vietnam veteran Michael Lander (Bruce Dern, Nebraska) to help her place a bomb inside the Goodyear Blimp during the Super Bowl in Miami. World-weary Israeli agent David Kabakov (Robert Shaw, Jaws) and CIA man Corley (Fritz Weaver, Demon Seed) work together to try to stop Iyad and Lander before it is too late.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Based upon Thomas Harris’s best-selling book, Black Sunday is an exciting, smart thriller, one of the best disaster films of the 1970s. Director John Frankenheimer (Manchurian Candidate and The Train) was an expert on this sort of thing. He creates some phenomenally tense set-pieces (Quentin Tarantino “borrowed” a scene for his Kill Bill saga) and a climax that will leave you breathless.

It’s a long, long movie, but it feels like you are watching a much shorter film. This is in large part due to Frankenheimer’s nifty pacing (assisted by Oscar-winning editor Tom Rolf) and a multi-layered screenplay by Ivan Moffat (Giant), Kenneth Ross (The Day of the Jackal), and Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest).

The main characters feel like real people with real problems. The hero is a troubled, complex character. The villains aren’t your typical one-dimensional monsters.

None of the three leading players let the spectacle overshadow their work. Shaw is great. He gives a complex performance. It’s too bad that he died just a couple of years after completing the film because it’s obvious that he was on his way up.

Dern goes deliciously over-the-top as a Vet with an acute case of PTSD. Keller’s cold-blooded killer is chilling. Dern and Keller make a wonderful couple of crazies. The cast also includes Michael V. Gazzo (The Godfather II), William Daniels (The Graduate), and Walter Gotell (General Anatol Gogol in the James Bond movies) as Colonel Riat.

The special effects look primitive by today’s standard, but the stunt work is exceptionally good. There is something genuinely exciting about seeing real people — no CGIs — in dangerous situations. John Williams’s (Jaws and Star Wars) music score is, of course, rock solid. Cinematography by John A. Alonzo (Chinatown).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Black Sunday is a terrific production with a plot that will interest post 9/11 viewers. Color, 143 minutes, Rated R.


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