Black Sunday: Terrorism Thriller Gets A New Blu-ray

A still from Black Sunday. Courtesy of Paramount.

Black Sunday, the 1977 terrorism thriller directed by John Frankenheimer, gets a new Blu-ray release by way of Arrow Video.

Arrow Video presents the thriller on the new Blu-ray in 1080p HD. There are two options for audiences to listen to the film. One is in its original restored lossless mono audio, which is being presented for the first time on Blu-ray. Audiences also have the option of choosing between restored lossless 5.1 and 2.0 stereo audio. There are also optional English subtitles for audiences who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Based on the novel by Thomas Harris, Black Sunday is Hollywood’s first terrorism blockbuster. The book had been written as a direct response to Black September committing the Munich Massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics. In any event, Black Sunday is a film that features Palestinian terrorists in the U.S. Not surprisingly, Israelis come to the rescue in trying to thwart a bombing on Super Bowl Sunday. At the time, it was a film that showed the extent at which Palestinians posed a threat in terms of national security in America. Mind you, the film also takes place over a decade before the historic Oslo agreement between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. The film hit the screen not too long after the Entebbe crisis in July 1976.

One couldn’t blame producer Robert Evans wanting to turn the book into a Hollywood blockbuster. According to Hollywood and Israel, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger advised him against taking sides in the matter, saying “You can’t make it anti or pro anyone.” I feel like Evans follows his advice to an extent with a disgruntled Vietnam War veteran being the main antagonist.

After a cold opening in Beiruit, the film turns its focus to Michael Lander (Bruce Dern). Lander is a former POW and even though he flies the Goodyear Blimp during NFL games, he’s suicidal enough to want to kill a large number of civilians. That’s where Black September re-enters the picture. Lander is in love with the manipulative Dahlia Iyad (Marthe Keller). Together, the two of them come up with a plan for a homicide bombing on Super Bowl Sunday. They do this because they want to call attention to the Palestinians while punishing the US for its support of Israel.

To the film’s great benefit, Frankenheimer had been able to shoot on location during Super Bowl X in Miami. If you look closely, you can see then-President Jimmy Carter going to a box in the stands. In any event, they would take over the stadium about two weeks later to finish shooting the film, with the climactic crash. It’s amazing that they were able to film much of the third act during the game itself.

Mossad agent David Kabakov (Robert Shaw) and FBI agent Sam Corley (Fritz Weaver) save the day and tow the blimp away from the Miami Orange Bowl and over water, where it explodes. Kabakov had previously spared Iyad’s life during an earlier raid only because she was not armed. He only comes to the US after learning of a potential terrorist attack, not knowing where it would be. There’s no time for playing by the rules–all that matters is saving lives.

Mohammed Fasil (Bekim Fehmiu), like Dahlia, is one of the Black September operatives on American soil. The character, as far as I can tell, is fictional because he didn’t mastermind the Munich Massacre in real life. In any event, Kabakov kills him after the terrorist goes on a shooting spree. Dahlia escapes to catch up with Lander. Surprisingly, the film gives Dahlia a backstory all the way back to 1948 that helps explain why she’s this way. It’s new to the film because, to my knowledge, there’s no such backstory. It’s an interesting decision, really, to offer a sympathetic portrayal of a terrorist in the late 1970s.

Meanwhile, the casting of Robert Shaw gives the film potential to do what Steven Spielberg had done with Jaws. For what it’s worth, Paramount put the film out into theaters nearly two months before the juggernaut that is Star Wars. In any event, it never did Jaws numbers and box office returns were not helped by the Arab protests at the time. As with any film, it needs to be watched through the lens in which it was made, Black Sunday almost certainly had an impact on Hollywood’s portrayal of terrorists on screen, more so after 9/11.

For better or worse, Black Sunday is a thriller of its time.

Bonus Features

  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new audio commentary by film scholar Josh Nelson
  • It Could Be Tomorrow – brand new visual essay by critic Sergio Angelini, exploring the film’s adaptation and production, and its place within the pantheon of 70s terrorism thrillers
  • The Directors: John Frankenheimer – an hour-long portrait of the director from 2003, including interviews with Frankenheimer, Kirk Douglas, Samuel L. Jackson, Roy Scheider, Rod Steiger and others
  • Image gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw

DIRECTOR: John Frankenheimer
SCREENWRITERS: Ernest Lehman, Kenneth Ross, and Ivan Moffat
CAST: Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, Marthe Keller, Fritz Weaver, Bekim Fehmiu

Paramount released Black Sunday in theaters on April 1, 1977. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.