Daily Archives: January 29, 2012

Black Sunday (1977)

(In celebration of the Superbowl coming to Indianapolis, which is also the headquarters to Scopophilia, movies about football, or ones that have football as their theme, will be reviewed all this week and through Superbowl Sunday.)

By Richard Winters

My Rating:  6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blimp wrecks the Superbowl

            Based on the Thomas Harris novel this film involves a female terrorist named Dahlia (Marthe Keller) working for a group called Black September. She plans on killing thousands of people at the Superbowl with the help of a blimp captain named Michael Lander (Bruce Dern), who is also a disgruntled Vietnam vet. As they are putting their plan into place their compound is attacked by an Israeli anti-terrorist group headed by Major David Kabakov (Robert Shaw). He decides not to kill Dahlia when he has the chance, but they confiscate all of their materials including a tape recording by Dahlia talking about a massive terrorist attack planned on U.S. soil in the near future.  Kabakov gives this information to the F.B.I. and they go on the offensive trying to track down what their operation is, as the details are vague, before they can pull it off.

Overall, as a spy thriller, the film is pretty good. I had to chuckle a little at the fact that the government takes the vague threats seriously and acts so swiftly based simply on an obscure tape recording when in real-life our government was warned long before the 9-11 attacks that a terrorist plot was being planned, but did nothing because they didn’t think it was possible. It would be nice to think that the government could one day act as semi-efficiently as it does in films.

There are indeed some memorable moments. One includes Kabakov shoving his gun down the throat of a suspect (Michael V. Gazzo) and giving him a very terse ultimatum ‘Blink for yes; die for no’. There is also an exciting well-choreographed shoot-out chase that starts out in a hotel lobby, goes through the streets and alley ways of the city, and ends up on the ocean beach. Another twisted moment is when Dahlia and Michael go to an isolated hanger in the Mojave Desert to try out a gadget that can supposedly shoot thousands of bullets in a single shot. The image of seeing all the tiny holes created on the wall of the shed from the bullets is cool enough that I was willing to overlook the fact that the wooden beams that crisscrossed the same wall were untouched. This scene also has a good bit of black humor when one of the employees of the hanger, who thinks the machine is a camera, and stands in front of it smiling only to have hundreds of bullets go slicing through him.

Shaw is excellent in the lead although it took me awhile to adjust to him in that type of role simply because he has played so many dark characters so well that it was hard to see him as a good guy. I liked that the character is human and admits to his mistakes, namely to the fact that he doesn’t kill Dahlia when he first has the chance. He also professes doubts about himself and his career, which adds to his multi-dimension. He tends to lean towards rogue tactics when forced, which helped reflect the brutal nature of the business that he was in. Certain lines that the character says are made memorable by Shaw’s dialect and tone that probably no other actor in the part could have done quite as well. I was also amazed at the incredible run he does during the game when he races down several flights of stairs and across the entire football field, which almost becomes a highlight in itself. I know the actor suffered from a weak heart and ended up dying from a heart attack just a year after this film came out, but I was almost surprised that he didn’t fall over from one right there.

Keller is great as the female adversary. Her American acting career never really took off, but that still doesn’t mean that she isn’t a strong actress. Her expression when she is caught in the shower with a gun pointing at her is priceless. I liked how initially she is portrayed as the ‘sane’ one in relation to the Dern character, but by the end it becomes quite clear that she is probably more evil and crazier than he could ever be. Her fight with Michael inside his house when they fear that their intricate plot may be falling apart is definitely her finest stuff.

Dern of course is an exceptional actor whose unique style and odd intensity make him a joy to watch even if the script is poor.  He is certainly well cast here, but I wished he was given more screen time and latitude as I don’t think his talents where given quite enough justice. His best moment maybe the long rant he has during one of his counseling sessions at the V.A. Medical center.

The film’s weakest point is what should’ve been its strongest, which is the segment involving the blimp barreling into the stadium. The set-up is perfect and consists of the some dazzling aerial photography and good up close footage of the football game. However, the actual blimp attack is highly compromised.  For one thing the edits are quick making it hard to follow. A much smaller blimp was used in the long shots and in the scenes where the spectators are running scared onto the field director Frankenheimer put the front end of the blimp onto a crane, which looks tacky and obvious. The blimp’s explosion is fake and when it was all over I felt disappointed. The film’s promotional items, including the film poster as seen above, promised this spectacular event, but then doesn’t come through. It almost makes one feel cheated and ruins the movie’s other good points.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1977

Runtime: 2Hours 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Frankenheimer

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video