Black Sunday – 4 stars
John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin) handles this thriller with crisp professionalism. Proof? My wife, who loathes 70s films, came in for the last 25 minutes and was riveted. I even had to pause to get her up to speed on who was who and what was going on.
Granted, Frankenheimer has some pretty ingenious material to work with – Palestinian terrorists intend to fly the Goodyear blimp into the Super Bowl where they will detonate a massive bomb that will disperse shards of metal for maximum carnage (the film is adapted from Thomas Harris’ only non-Hannibal Lecter book).
The driven mastermind is Martha Keller (so driven because the Israelis have destroyed her entire family) and the psychologically impaired stooge is Bruce Dern (a former POW flyer in Vietnam, stripped of rank for “breaking”, now working for Goodyear flying the blimp). Robert Shaw is the relentless Mossad agent hot on their heels, guilt-ridden because he had a shot at Keller but let emotions engender mercy.
There is a little too much Dern and Keller relationship stuff, and in particular, Dern and his mental breakdowns/quirks, and the film could’ve been cut easily by 20 minutes. But there is much to like here, and in particular, Frankenheimer does the madness of public violence great justice. His insistence in showing just how many innocent people actually get killed if criminals and cops decide they’re gonna’ shoot it out in the streets is welcome, as evidenced by a thrilling Miami Beach sequence.
But the coolest facet is the fact that the NFL let them film the movie at the actual 1977 Super Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Goodyear people let them use the actual blimps, almost otherworldly in these days of image consciousness, risk-aversion, and fear of offense. Frankenheimer may have had Goodyear over a barrell. In one of his biographies, Frankenheimer recounted that he helped persuade Goodyear to let him use its blimps because if not, the production would rent a large blimp, paint it silver-and-black, and people would think it was the Goodyear blimp anyway.
The impact truly heightens the tension when we see Shaw and FBI Man Fritz Weaver running around the Orange Bowl past Tom Landry, Franco Harris and even this guy…
Okay, not the real Jimmy Carter, but this is the only shot of him in the film, and though it’s very quick, it is a testament to Frankenheimer’s desire for verisimilitude.
Solid. On a subset of Prime, MGM+.