Black Sunday (1977)

Black Sunday (1977)


Dahlia Iyad (Marthe Keller, Marathon Man) is a Palestinian agent who has enlisted wacky American Michael Lander (Bruce Dern, Nebraska) to help her place a bomb inside the Goodyear Blimp during the Super Bowl in Miami, Florida. 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 (Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs) best-selling book, Black Sunday is an exciting and smart thriller, one of the best disaster films of the 1970s. Director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) 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, ably 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. For example, the film’s (anti)hero, brilliantly played by Robert Shaw, is a troubled and complex character. The villains aren’t your typical one-dimensional monsters either — the baddies are scary precisely because they look, act and sound like ordinary people.

None of the three leading players let the spectacle overshadow their work. As I said before, Shaw is simply superb as the world-weary Israeli agent obsessed with capturing the terrorists. It’s too bad that Shaw died just a couple of years after completing the film because it’s obvious that he was on his way up.

Bruce Dern goes deliciously over-the-top as a Vet with an acute case of PTSD. Marthe 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 Gogol in the James Bond movies).

The special effects look primitive by today’s standards, 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. It’s an exciting, edge-of-your-seat action/crime thriller, one of director John Frankenheimer’s best! Color, 143 minutes, Rated R.

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