A demented war veteran plots to kill thousands of Americans at the Superbowl in Miami by using a specially designed dart-gun from the Goodyear blimp which flies above the stadium. However, a tough Middle Eastern anti-terrorist agent has uncovered some of the plot and is out to stop him.
Robert Shaw ... Maj. David Kabakov
Bruce Dern ... Capt. Michael J. Lander
Marthe Keller ... Dahlia Iyad
Bekim Fehmiu ... Mohammad Fasil
Fritz Weaver ... FBI Agent Sam Corley
Steven Keats ... Robert Moshevsky
Michael V. Gazzo ... E. Muzi
William Daniels ... Alan Pugh
Walter Gotell ... Col. Riat
Victor Campos ... Nageeb
Joseph Robbie ... Himself
Robert Wussler ... Himself
Pat Summerall ... Himself
Tom Brookshier ... Himself
Walter Brooke ... Fowler
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.
* The actual game that was being played in the film was Superbowl X between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys at Miami. Respective scores: 21 to 17.
* Movie cameras used in filming during the Super Bowl game were disguised as TV cameras with CBS logos.
* Three Goodyear blimps are used in the film, one based in Miami, one in Houston and one in Los Angeles.
* The climactic scene in which the blimp descends onto the Orange Bowl was filmed the day before the actual game to avoid setting off a real panic.
* At least some parts of the climatic scene were filmed after the Superbowl, including shots of the nose of the blimp coming onto the field as extras ran about wildly. Only the front portion of the blimp and gondola were recreated for this "head-on" shot and the whole thing was controlled by a crane.
* Director Cameo: [John Frankenheimer] the TV director covering the Miami Superbowl game.
* Average Shot Length = ~5.3 seconds. Median Shot Length = ~5.4 seconds.
* Lynn Swann's (Super Bowl MVP) touchdown can be seen from behind the end zone in one of the scenes.
* John Frankenheimer was able to secure permission from Goodyear to use its blimp in the film because of his relationship with the company's public relations department from making Grand Prix (1966). He had to promise that the blimp itself would not kill anybody--for example, that no one would be torn up in its propellers. In addition, the pilot was changed from a Goodyear employee to a freelance pilot only hired by Goodyear. Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie got the NFL to allow extensive filming at a real Super Bowl game and the use of copyrighted team names and logos. Additional footage of the stampede at the game was shot at the Orange Bowl after the game with thousands of extras provided for free by The United Way. In exchange for providing the extras, Frankenheimer agreed to direct a short film for them with star Robert Shaw narrating it.