Black Sunday (1977)


(director: John Frankenheimer; screenwriters: novel by Thomas Harris/Ernest Lehman/Kenneth Ross/Ivan Moffat; cinematographer: John A. Alonzo; editor: Tom Roif; music: John Williams; cast: Robert Shaw (Major David Kabakov), Bruce Dern (Capt. Michael Lander), Marthe Keller (Dahlia Iyad), Fritz Weaver (Sam Corley), Steve Keats (Robert Moshevsky), Bekin Fehmiu (Fasil), Michael V. Gazzo (Muzi), Walter Gotell (Colonel Riat, Egyptian Operative); Runtime: 143; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Robert Evans; Anchor Bay Entertainment (Paramount); 1977)

Super-abundantly produced terrorism thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Frankenheimer(“The Iceman Cometh”/”The Gypsy Moths”/”52 Pick-Up”) shows off his film-making skills in this super-abundantly produced terrorism thriller adapted from the novel of Thomas Harris (writer of the Silence of the Lambs). It’s cleverly written by Ernest Lehman, Kenneth Ross and Ivan Moffat. It manages to look good however ridiculous is its over-the-top ending of a police helicopter pursuing a hijacked by the terrorists Goodyear blimp and trying to stop it before the terrorists can bring on a bloodbath in Miami’s Super Bowl X.

It opens in Beirut, in November, where the world-weary aging tough-guy Israeli commando Mossad agent Major Kabakov (Robert Shaw), who has been chasing the bad guys for some 30 years, leads a raid on the compound of the Black September terrorist group. They are part of the Palestinian liberation movement, whose cause supports any effort to hit Americans “where it hurts, where they feel most safe.” The raid is successful in killing most of the terrorists, burning down their compound and in capturing a tape announcing their upcoming plans to stage an attack on U. S. soil. The Major only regrets not killing the Arab-German, Dahlia Iyad (Marthe Keller), when he had a chance to do so while she was in the shower. He later learns that she’s the femme fatale mastermind in the terrorist group, and that her terrorist boss Fasil (Bekin Fehmiu) has approved her grandiose plan to kill some 80,000 innocents attending the Super Bowl at the Orange Bowl. The plan calls for using a special device that fires deadly explosive darts from the Goodyear blimp.

While in the States, the Major is helped by his C.I.A counterpart Sam Corley (Fritz Weaver).

The Major in his search for the terrorists has tortured one importer/exporter (Michael V. Gazzo) suspect to get info about shipping explosives into the states and receives from his Egyptian spy counterpart (Walter Gotell), in a secret meeting, the name of the Black September girl he is searching for. The Major will also learn at the last minute that she has recruited a crazed and disgruntled Navy flyer, Captain Lander (Bruce Dern). He’s a decorated hero of the Vietnam War, who was tortured as a POW for six years by the enemy and when released was so troubled that he became unhinged and was given a court martial. It resulted in him being booted out of the service and his wife divorcing him. The mentally unbalanced apolitical Lander has since worked as a Goodyear pilot, but secretly blames his country for all his problems and is irate that despite his valiant service they insulted him with their actions.

The film’s memorable classic nail-biting climax, staged while a real football game transpires between the Steelers and the Cowboys, might have one of the most absurd chase scenes in the movies but also one of the most exciting.

The movie is Frankenheimer at his best and worst. He excels at getting the most out of his spectacle visuals, but squanders the great action sequences with too much wasted chatter trying to explain why terrorists have become the way they are in Psychology 101 terms.