Sunday, February 5, 2017

Black Sunday (1977)

With today being Super Bowl Sunday here in the States, I decided that I'd finally watch Black Sunday off of my DVR. It's available on DVD, so I'm more than comfortable doing a full-length post on it even though I don't think it's on TV any time soon.

The movie starts off in Beirut with a bunch of people plotting what could be either a heist or a terrorist act; one of them, the female member Dahlia Iyad (Marthe Keller) shows a film from Vietnam of former US prisoner of war Lander (Bruce Dern). All of this is interrupted by a bunch of black-clad operatives coming in and shooting up the compound and exploding it, killing everybody but Dahlia. OK, we can guess that these are actually terrorists and the the black-clad people were from some country's security service.

Cut to the United States. First, we're introduced to Lander as he is today. He pilots one of the Goodyear blimps, which pioneered hovering over sporting events and giving us aerial footage in exchange for that free advertising. But he's also a divorcé and has psychologicial problems that cause him to see VA shrinks on a regular basis. No wonder Dahlia thinks she can use him to whatever nefarious end she has in mind. And to that end, Lander is busy working on something in his basement.

Meanwhile, we discover that the people who interrupted that terrorist meeting in Beirut were Israelis, and that they found a tape recorded by Dahlia, on which she talks about the Americans starting their new year with the sort of suffering the Palestinian people have known for decades. It's obvious that this is Black September, the people who killed all those Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and that they're planning some sort of operation for early January. But where?

So we get a month and a half or so of Israeli Mossad officer Kabakov (Robert Shaw) working in America in conjunction with FBI man Corley (Fritz Weaver) to figure out what's going on. We get some action, such as a boat chase, and some suspense, such as Dahlia trying to kill Kabakov in hospital, but nothing really happens until just before New Year's. The Israelis, in conjunction with their Egyptian counterparts helping them under the table (this was just before the Camp David accords were signed) have discovered Dahlia's identity and that she's at a hotel in Miami. There, she meets her contact Fasil. She escapes the authorities' net but Fasil doesn't, and when the authorities search Fasil's hotel room, they find a sports magazine with Miami's Orange Bowl stadium and mentions of the Super Bowl on the cover.

Kabakov doesn't know what this Super Bowl is, but the Americans certainly do, and this is of course also where Lander fits in. He's going to pilot the Goodyear blimp over the Orange Bowl during the Super Bowl and detonate explosives, hoping to kill thousands if not tens of thousands in the process! The Americans are of course panicky, since the Super Bowl is coming up in a week's time, this being the era when the game was held in the second week of January rather than the beginning of February. And the President plans to be at the game, too! Can they stop this fiendish plot?

Black Sunday is a good, but not great movie. One problem is that it seems almost interminable, running over 140 minutes when it really should have been plotted to run about two hours. There's also a lot that seems outlandish. Surely Black September would have known it wasn't a definite that Goodyear had multiple blimp pilots and that Lander was not guaranteed to be the one at the Super Bowl. And flying all those explosives? Oh, and the attempt to foil the plot in the climax is fairly ridiculous, too. But the cast does well with the material they're given. They're helped by director John Frankenheimer. There were a lot of points in the final third of the movie, once the action hits Super Bowl week, that reminded me of the Madison Square Garden scenes of The Manchurian Candidate. We also get a lot of vintage footage from Super Bowl X, including play-by-play man Pat Summerall before he worked with John Madden. (Madden at this point was still coaching the Oakland Raiders; Summerall was working with Tom Brookshier at this point.) We also get a cameo from then Miami Dolphins owner Joseph Robbie; when the Dolphins built a new stadium to replace the Orange Bowl they named it after him until corporate naming rights became the big thing.

Overall, Black Sunday is worth a watch, and the DVD I came across on Amazon is very moderately priced. Just don't confuse it with the Mario Bava horror movie also titled Black Sunday.

No comments: