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There are a number of good things going for this film, among them two
things you learn right from the opening credits: (1) John Frankenheimer
is the director and (2) it's based on a book by Thomas Harris, the man
who created "Hannibal Lechter."
Throw in two intense always-interesting actors, Bruce Dern and Marthe Keller, and you now have a good, no-nonsense story translated to the screen. By that, I mean that when people are shot, that's it, no questions asked, no stupid talking.
Even the football scenes were real-life with actual footage of the Cowboys and Steelers playing in a past Super Bowl.
The suspense was done well, although a bit hokey at the very end (can't say more without spoiling it) but it can't take away from the previous two-plus hours of credibility.
Dern also makes for a good "psycho" (he's almost made a career of it) and Keller is convincing as a villain, too, as she was in a film from the previous year: Marathon Man. Two other consistently- good actors also help make this an interesting film: Robert Shaw and Fritz Weaver.
It was nice to see this film on a widescreen DVD but the picture was a bit grainy. The transfer was okay, but could have been better. The film is worthy of a top- notch print.
"Black Sunday" is a flat out exciting motion picture about the planning and
execution of a terrorist attack during the Super Bowl. Robert Shaw plays the
head of an agency trying to prevent the attack. Bruce Dern is at his creepy
best as a brainwashed Vietnam vet enlisted by the lovely Marthe Keller to
help carry out the sinister plan. Dern is a blimp pilot and the perfect
person to help detonate a contraption that will send thousands of deadly
needles into the unsuspecting crowd. Dern was born to play parts like this
and it's a reminder of how terrific an actor he is and how sad it is that he
doesn't work as much as he used to.
The final 40 minutes is intercut between the game (actually shot during the real Cowboys-Steelers Super Bowl game of 76) and the unfolding of the final stages of the plot. It's tense and exciting as Shaw and cohorts commandeer helicopters to try to catch the blimp heading to the big game to unleash its deadly attack.
Kudos to director John Frankheimer for keeping the pacing on this 2 hour 25 minute thriller moving. The editing is first rate and the music score by John Williams is one of his best though it is never mentioned when his name comes up.
If you like a good thriller that is never boring and will keep you on the edge of your seat, I highly recommend "Black Sunday."
This is such a disturbing film, based on a very disturbing book by
Thomas Harris, the creator of Hannibal the Cannibal. I read the book in
1976 and actually believed that cunning terrorists might be able to
think up a really spectacular way of killing a whole lot of people at
one time, but we'd be able to see it coming and stop them, just like in
the book. Little did we know . . .
I imagine what it would have been like to see a mid-1930s era movie about a carrier-borne air-strike against an American naval base. It would have seemed so far-fetched, and it would have drawn fire for smearing the race or nationality of the aggressors. Yet, here's Thomas Harris's novel of a disgruntled POW who is hired by Palestinians to set off an enormous shaped charge, packed with steel darts, into the crowd at a Super Bowl. With John Frankenheimer's skill and a great cast of actors, Harris's story really does come to life, and even with the occasional special effects flaw and some really unpleasant violence, it works! I remember being so excited about the movie--it had Bruce Dern and Robert Shaw and that gorgeous woman from Marathon Man, Marthe Keller. The art work was so imaginative! Even in dopey little Spokane, Washington, the Fox Theatre put up a billboard sized blimp on their roof. Frankenheimer even shot two scenes of the President of the United States coming down to watch the action--one, a Jimmy Carter lookalike and the other, Gerry Ford. The movie felt real, even with, as a I mentioned before, some special effects cheese that, for its time, couldn't be avoided.
In January 1977 I had not seen The Manchurian Candidate--I didn't even know who Frankenheimer was; the only directors I knew were Don Siegel (because I loved Dirty Harry) and Roman Polanski (because of--my chronology might be off here--his little dust up with an underage girl at Jack Nicholson's house, or something like that). If I had seen TMC, I might have noticed certain similarities between Candidate and Black Sunday--the damaged war veteran, the cold manipulators, the driven investigator of the truth, and the interspersal of violent, ugly images. Yet, Black Sunday is truly an action movie; its relation to The Manchurian Candidate stops as the bombs and bullets start tearing up the place.
Finally, it's strange to say that casting Bruce Dern as a psychologically damaged former carrier pilot was inspired--the man got rich and famous off playing wackadoodles--but Dern is more tortured, more pathetic than anything I ever saw him in. His character is so sad, so torn up by his experience in the Hanoi Hilton that, while it doesn't excuse his perfidy, he is as three dimensional as Sgt. Raymond Shaw. But Shaw did right at the end; Lander dies trapped by his own anger and hate.
So, if you can find it, I would strongly suggest renting this film. It is disturbingly topical, intense and suspenseful, and an example of a good movie made about an attack against the Super Bowl, unlike the other winter 1977 football disaster, Two-Minute Warning.
"Black Sunday" is a nice example of how good action films used to be, before the 80s and 90s saw dumb scripts and dumb characters undermine the genre forever (films like "The Rock" for example). Instead of going for non-stop pyrotechnics, John Frankenheimer and Ernest Lehman serve up a tense, exciting build-up with interesting characters along the way that culminates in a grand finale that was partly filmed during Super Bowl X between Dallas and Pittsburgh. Robert Shaw, at long last given the chance to play the hero in a movie, is quite good as the weary Israeli agent and Bruce Dern is at his psychotic best as the deranged blimp pilot.
First, if you do not like football do not watch the movie. The film features large numbers of plays from the Super Bowl that wreck the narrative and are in the movie for no apparent reason. My hypothesis is that it was the price extorted to allow the stadium and the game to appear in the film. Whatever the reason, it stretches the already too long narrative and makes it, if possible, even more boring. That is the main problem with the movie, how incredibly boring it is. Between shots of the football game, the endless bomb assembly and preparations, get ready to go to sleep, very slow. Add into the mix Marthe Keller as Dahlia who nobody, even back then, could make out what she is saying. Her accent is so thick and she slurs her vowels, provoking laughter in my audience when her pronunciation sounds like other words, often quite comically inappropriate. She is on screen constantly which just destroys the movie. The buildup to the attack seemed like two days; shots of her driving and parking, parking and driving, on and on. Boring.
The attack you have waited for is shot terribly. They simply back up the footage of the blimp coming in such a clumsy way that you can tell it is the same footage in reverse. All the way in the speed of the blimp is manipulated in such a brazenly clumsy choppy fashion that it looks so phony. Dern's crazy man act, the only role the man could ever play, do not believe me? Watch The Driver where he has to act normal, he stinks it up big time. Here the insane act goes on and on and is also so boring. Shaw's agent is portrayed, inexplicably, as a clumsy idiot who caused the whole mess in the first place by not shooting Dahlia at the beginning in Beirut. He and Keats get blown up with the freighter captain; later, Keats gets killed by Dahlia in the hospital. Really identifying with the protagonist, aren't you?
See, if the lead protagonist is a bumbling, incompetent fool who gets everyone around him killed it damages the movie. We see this same error of Frankenheimer's Ronin where DeNiro makes one mistake after another and has to keep being bailed out by Jean Reno. The film is a dreadful bore. The only reason to watch it is for Stephen Keats, who was a great character actor. He shines here like he did in the classic The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Other than this nuance, for die hard film buffs, skip this movie. It feels like six hours not three. Marthe Keller is not able to be understood. The effects are dreadful and believe me, not worth the eternal wait. What a Letdown!!
With so much crap on the dvd store shelves, you gotta wonder who's in
from preventing this (sadly) prophetic minor classic from being
Unless this is presented in widescreen, I refuse to see it again because the pan & scan version skips out half of the visuals; it's just not the same movie.
I saw this in 77' at the theater and again at the drive-in and my heart raced twice as fast (the 2nd time seeing it) during the last half of the movie because Frankenheimer had such a grasp on building tension. A couple of years later, I saw it broadcast on CBS, Sunday night AFTER the televised Pittsburg vs Dallas Super Bowl (in the late 70's, the Super Bowl started much earlier...CBS executives must of had a field day on the irony of that match up). I couldn't believe the epic scope that was lost on the pan & scan.
Everyone is top notch (yes, I had read the book). The 'good' guys are almost as ruthless as the terrorists in their quest to prevent thousands of innocent lives lost. Don't expect any snappy one liners after someone is dispatched; these are harsh, brutal portrayals. In these times, the movie is no longer escapism, but a frightening reality that (arguably) may be preventing the dvd release.
And the world lost so much with Robert Shaw's untimely passing. What a range of talent!
8.5 out of 10! One of the most gripping thrillers I've ever seen.
The late John Frankenheimer was one of our greatest movie directors and Black Sunday was one of his greatest films that showed him as a true master of suspense. I recently bought the DVD for the film and it still "holds up" today as well as ever. There isn't a suspense film today that can hold a candle to it just like Frankenheimer's other great film The Manchurian Candidate (I cannot believe that they are re-making it with Denzel Washington!). Robert Shaw was a truly overlooked and underused talent. He was a true Renaissance man in every sense of the word. People don't realize that he wasn't only a great actor but a playwright and novelist as well. He wrote the Broadway play The Man In The Glass Booth. He is best remembered for his role as Quint in Jaws but he gave many other fine performances as well and this is surely one as the heroic Israeli agent who has to stop a terrorist threat to kill 80,000 Superbowl fans. Watching this film in 1977 was chilling when you saw what the psychotic Vietnam vet Bruce Dern and Martha Keller were going to do. These were two terrorists who were willing to die for their cause and take thousands of innocent people with them. Watching this film today is even MORE chilling! Back when it was released, most probably thought it was too farfetched. These two terrorists were going to use an "aircraft" (in this case a Goodyear blimp) as a weapon of mass murder. DOES THIS SEEM FARFETCHED TODAY!!!!Black Sunday was made a quarter century before 9/11. As a matter of fact, when the Oklahoma City Bombing happened, CNN showed a clip of Black Sunday as an example of how Hollywood has treated the subject of domestic terrorism. It is chiling that Frankenheimer and Thoams Harris (the author of the novel who later wrote the Hannibal Lecter trilogy) could have that much foresight. All the actors in this film are awesome and what really shocked me was Fritz Weaver's heroic FBI agent (usually movies show the FBI as stupid and corrupt) Critics have often commented on the climax of the film where Lander and her take off in the blimp to set the bomb off and Kabakov and Corley try to stop them. It is the most intense and suspenseful ending you can possibly imagine and the music is awesome. The stunt people must have had a field day doing the climax where they haul the blimp out of the stadium.
Black Sunday was considered a "what if" disaster movie in the '70s, although it's not a disaster movie along the lines of Earthquake!, Flood! or the others. Now of course it seems less like a "what if" movie and some of the lines of "fictional" dialogue have actually been quoted in the news recently. This is an absorbing thriller, and does not rely on the special effects that so many thrillers like "The Siege" (and probably The Sum of All Fears, which I haven't seen) employ. Too bad Robert Shaw passed at such a relatively young age--in all of the movies I've seen him in (The Sting, The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3, Jaws and this one), he created such different types of characters. I didn't even recognize him at first in this one, going from the Irish accent of Jaws to the Israeli accent in Black Sunday. John Frankenheimer gripped my attention for the whole movie, and considering its length (nearly 3 hours) this is no small feat. Even Bruce Dern, doing his usual psycho thing, was good. Highly recommended.
Hang on tight for this one, folks! This flick moves so fast sometimes that you might think you missed something along the way. Basic story line holds up well through the years. Good chase scene on the Florida streets! Excellent camera work all the way through. Cast is excellent--especially Mr. Shaw (as usual). He gives David Kabakov a healthy measure of humanity that sprays out of the film and covers you like a heavy wool coat; his suffering makes your heart ache. And boy, is that blimp a pest! This one is worth the view--from beginning to end. A classic!
Despite being set in the 1970s I couldn`t help noticing that Robert Shaw`s
Mossad agent Kabakov is shown as being a violent ruthless cold blooded
killer who`s almost as bad as the terrorists he`s hunting . This goes
slightly against the common perception in much of the world at the time of
Israelis being heroic and plucky freedom fighters striving to defeat
terrorism and it should be remembered Israel carried out the legendary raid
on Entebbe the year before . It wasn`t untill Israel`s invasion of Lebanon
in 1982 that this perception changed towards the state of Israel somewhat .
Well I suppose the producers should be congratulated on bringing ambiguity
to the story . Likewise the " villain " Lander is a terrorist motivated by
the fact that his country has turned his back on him . Sent to fight people
in South East Asia he was shot down and left to rot in a North Vietnamese
POW camp and on returning home from the most dirty and needless war of the
20th century he finds that even his own wife has forgotten about him . The
point being that terrorists are never born but made .
BLACK SUNDAY is a very good political thriller full of good but often violent action scenes which means it`s not a film for everyone . Likewise watching this film in the 21st century which involves a plot to kill tens of thousands of innocent people at a public event means many viewers will be uneasy watching this . Sometimes you can take a plot and make it a little too realistic
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