"Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern and a blimp crashing into a stadium = Fun"
Sort of a Spy Thriller mixed with a Disaster Epic, John Frankenheimer's Black Sunday is a taut and tight little political thriller...that sorta slides right off the rails in its third act.Given the current-day post-9/11 perspectives, this rather dated flick from 1977 takes on a creepy new attitude when looked at with modern eyes. Upon its original release, Black Sunday was offered as a harrowing "what if..." tale of terrorism run rampant, but nowadays the movie takes on an eerie prescience that nobody would have suspected.
The late, great Robert Shaw (Jaws) is Major David Kabakov, an Israeli anti-terrorist operative hot on the trail of the nefarious Dahlia Iyad. Along with her maniacal henchman (Bruce Dern as a Vietnam veteran with a taste for sniping), Dahlia aims to wipe out a huge percentage of the folks gathered to enjoy the Super Bowl. Using the Good-Year blimp.
Though Black Sunday leans a little towards the forced and the obvious (aw, gee, a CRAZY Vietnam vet? Brilliant!), many of these detriments were also evident in Thomas Harris' source material. One shortcoming that the movie holds is that it's pretty darn bloated, and frequently rather dull. Sure, things get pretty intense by the time we hit the Super Bowl finale, but those scenes are marred by special effects so silly that they pull one right out of the drama. I know these were effects created in 1976 and all, but c'mon. Star Wars was made in 1975!
Throughout the handful of exciting moments and the lengthy moments of exposition and general chit-chat, Black Sunday's superlative cast capably buoys the flick beyond its intermittent dry spells. Dern is a kooky hoot as the maladjusted veteran; Shaw is gruff and effortlessly commanding as the heroic soldier; familiar faces like Williams Daniels, Fritz Weaver and Michael Gazzo deliver strong supporting work. Hell, the movie even presents one of the earliest scores from master musician John Williams!
Though it doesn't rank near the finest efforts of director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Ronin), Black Sunday is just crafty and creepy enough to earn some new fans even 25 years after its release.It's not as campy as the Airport flicks and its not as thrilling as are the exploits of James Bond, but taken as a sort of combo between the two, you could certainly do a lot worse.