Black Sunday (1977): Breakdown by Kain424
An Israeli counter-terrorism agent tries to prevent an attack at the Super Bowl.
Right away I feel it is important to note that I don’t think Black Sunday should be included in the Disaster Movie genre. Those films usually feature a horrific event followed by the attempts of the survivors to escape or subdue the purveyor of their situation. Black Sunday is about the attempts to prevent a horrific event, putting it firmly as more of a straight action flick.
Also, the movie deals less with the actions of a group (though a few C.I.A. officials do assist Shaw’s character) and more to do with a lone figure, making Black Sunday something of a cross between Dirty Harry and Die Hard, with elements of a James Bond film (even featuring Walter Gotell as a Russian liaison).
A terrorist group calling themselves Black September, supporting the Palestinian cause, has decided to launch an attack on American soil. The plan is to use plastique to set off a massive explosion onboard a blimp flying over the Super Bowl to kill and maim thousands of citizens. This is meant to draw the attention of the unsympathetic United States to the seemingly ignored cause of Palestine. A raid on the terrorists’ camp uncovers this plot but fails to nullify the threat. What follows is a long and dangerous hunt, with the clock ticking away.
Written by Hannibal Lector creator, Thomas Harris, the plot deals frequently with the psychological effects of war and terrorism. It still remains generally fast-paced, though a trim of about fifteen to twenty minutes probably wouldn’t hurt. There are scenes of intense character exploration that simply don’t need to go on as long as they do. The motivations are usually disclosed in passing, making further moments of explanation seem redundant.
The movie, though heavy on characterization, is surprisingly Action-centric. Especially for its time. Black Sunday refuses to shy away from the violence it wants to depict, with the bodies of police, terrorists, agents, and innocent bystanders all piling up by the end of the film. The terrorists are shown as do-or-die individuals, dangerous to the last breath. This results in several violent confrontations, all mounting the collateral damage.
Director John Frankenheimer keeps things interesting, working the level of chaos presented in the film masterfully. All the scenery is used to give the protagonist’s hunt a needle-in-a-haystack feeling and the shootouts feel as helpless as the situations should. The level of danger mounts impeccably, likely owing much to John Williams’ score which aids in this endeavor.
All in all, Black Sunday is a surprisingly good film. A precursor to films like Speed and Executive Decision, it hits almost all the right notes. It’s got the action, the stunts, and the story. The film works, but its lack of effects (notably for the climax) and occasional long scene keep it from being a perfect Action flick. Does this mean I wouldn’t recommend it? No, quite the opposite. This is probably one of the best films of its kind to come out of the 1970s, and should be regarded as such. This one’s a bit of a hidden classic, and it deserves all the reverence the filmmakers intended.
[HOW BAD-ASS ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERS?]
Robert Shaw is David “The Final Solution” Kabakov
Kabakov is essentially a burnt out cop character, having faced years of combat and terrorist tracking. His effectiveness in this field has earned him his nickname, but the perpetuation of what he sees as a never ending conflict has made Kabakov doubt his purpose. He feels he has become a killing machine in a war with no point and in his remaining humanity, he allowed a terrorist to live because she seemed to be a helpless woman.
Filmed a couple years after Robert Shaw made Jaws, the man looks about a decade younger. This is all the more surprising when one learns he died a couple years afterward. This is easily one of his better roles, giving him the room to show both his athletic side and also his emotional. It’s Shaw’s performance that drives the movie and ultimately makes it all work.
Bruce Dern and Marthe Keller are Lander and Dahlia
Lander is a Vietnam veteran and former POW. This has left him mentally scarred and easy to manipulate by the cool and complex character of Dahlia. Her family was collateral damage in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, Dahlia seeks to make the United States understand the pain of those suffering in the war.
[THE BODY COUNT: 34, possibly more]
Though Shaw’s team kills many over the course of their terrorist camp raid, the deaths that will really stand out are those of the remaining course of the film. Bloody and heavy with squibs, the deaths of much of the later parts of the film are seemingly random and almost completely committed by the terrorists. Almost all are from gunshots, but there is some variety with one man being impaled with hundreds of tiny shrapnel darts and another’s head exploding.
Towards the end of the film as the blimp descends upon the stadium, a panic is created in which several people fall from high above and many more are trampled.
[MOST SATISFYING DEATH]
After all the trouble they’ve already endured just to gain the explosives necessary for their dastardly deed, Lander convinces Dahlia he must first test the product. They pack a small amount of the substance and head out to a small airfield, nearly abandoned, and tell the lone caretaker they are scouting the area for a major airline company and need to take pictures.
Setting up the “shot”, Lander is able to get the caretaker to pose. Lander and Dahlia then hurry outside, and when they hear the man tell them he’s “ready”, Lander turns the detonation lever and…
The man is instantly Swiss cheese, with the shrapnel darts tearing through him and the wall behind him.
[DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO]
Black Sunday explores the complexities of international terrorism, sexual manipulation, and even football. Still, there’s nothing to go on here.
[EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY]
One of the main characters is a strong, powerful female who uses her skills in bedroom performance, maternal instinct, and even sharpshooting to attain her goals. One could argue for her being a role model even. If only she wasn’t also the movie’s primary villain…
[EPIC MOMENT AND BEST ONE-LINER]
Early in the film, Kabakov comes upon Dahlia while on a seek and destroy mission at Black September’s headquarters. She’s in the shower, he finds her and has his weapon drawn. Displaying rare mercy Kabakov allows her to live, only to find out she’s behind the impending Super Bowl attack and the murder of his partner.
Long after expressing his doubts about whether or not he could kill her if offered the chance again, he finally comes face-to-face with Dahlia one more time. Not wasting a second’s time, and to her horror, he pulls the trigger on his submachine gun immediately. Sprayed with bullets, she goes down like a sack of terrorist shit.
Shaw is great with menacing dialog (see him also in the excellent From Russia With Love), and this film is no exception. Having lost his partner to the murderess in charge of Black September’s U.S. attack, Kabakov cuts right to the chase when interrogating a man for information. He sticks his gun’s silencer-equipped barrel in the man’s mouth and begins his questioning.
“Now, just blink for ‘yes’, or die for ‘no.’ ”
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Violent opposition to terrorist actions is actually saving America and the world.
[THE CHECKLIST: 10 outta 25]
[ ] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[ ] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[ ] Heavy Artillery
[ ] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[ ] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[ ] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[X] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[ ] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[ ] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[ ] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[ ] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[ ] Vigilante Justice
Black Sunday (1977) © Paramount Pictures and Paramount Home Video