Black Sunday (1977)

R | 143 mins | Drama, Adventure | March 1977

Director:

John Frankenheimer

Producer:

Robert Evans

Cinematographer:

John Alonzo

Editor:

Tom Rolf

Production Designer:

Walter Tyler
Full page view
HISTORY

The film was based on Thomas Harris’s first novel, Black Sunday, which was inspired by the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games by a militant Palestinian group called the Black September Organization. Harris’s next novel, Red Dragon (1981), introduced his most famous villain, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
       As noted in a 9 Feb 1977 DV article, the film was initially given an R-rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) but Paramount Pictures filed an appeal, claiming that the film was relatively non-violent and bloody scenes were intentionally avoided by the filmmakers. However, MPAA denied the appeal with the assertion that the film generally portrayed “all-enveloping violence.”
       A 17 May 2002 DV news item reported that director John Frankenheimer and his crew shot the film’s climactic scene during the 18 Jan 1976 Super Bowl game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys at the Orange Bowl in Miami, FL, even though the terrorist event occurred in Harris’s novel at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, LA. The scene required “unprecedented cooperation” from the National Football League (NFL), the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBS) and the Orange Bowl because shooting was scheduled to occur while the game was still being played with seven separate cameras. NFL Commissioner Pete Rosell reportedly delayed giving his cue for the scene to begin for fear of distracting the crowd from the game and executive producer Robert L. Rosen signaled for filming to begin without Rosell’s consent.
       According to a 4 Sep 2000 article in the Los Angeles Times , Dennis Miller, the ... More Less

The film was based on Thomas Harris’s first novel, Black Sunday, which was inspired by the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games by a militant Palestinian group called the Black September Organization. Harris’s next novel, Red Dragon (1981), introduced his most famous villain, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
       As noted in a 9 Feb 1977 DV article, the film was initially given an R-rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) but Paramount Pictures filed an appeal, claiming that the film was relatively non-violent and bloody scenes were intentionally avoided by the filmmakers. However, MPAA denied the appeal with the assertion that the film generally portrayed “all-enveloping violence.”
       A 17 May 2002 DV news item reported that director John Frankenheimer and his crew shot the film’s climactic scene during the 18 Jan 1976 Super Bowl game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys at the Orange Bowl in Miami, FL, even though the terrorist event occurred in Harris’s novel at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, LA. The scene required “unprecedented cooperation” from the National Football League (NFL), the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBS) and the Orange Bowl because shooting was scheduled to occur while the game was still being played with seven separate cameras. NFL Commissioner Pete Rosell reportedly delayed giving his cue for the scene to begin for fear of distracting the crowd from the game and executive producer Robert L. Rosen signaled for filming to begin without Rosell’s consent.
       According to a 4 Sep 2000 article in the Los Angeles Times , Dennis Miller, the comedian-turned- Monday Night Football commentator on ABC, angered the network when he wondered out loud whether the Budweiser blimp hovering above the stadium was piloted by Bruce Dern, who played Black Sunday ’s villain. Two years later, a 31 May 2002 Los Angeles Times article revealed that because of post-9/11 fears, the NFL, despite its cooperation with Black Sunday thirty-five years earlier, did not want to have anything to do with the 2002 blockbuster film, The Sum of All Fears (see entry), in which terrorists blow up a football game made to resemble the Super Bowl with a nuclear weapon.
       As stated in a 4 Jun 2012 Daily Gazette article, Goodyear supplied at least two blimps for the production, the Columbia from CA and the Mayflower from FL.
       Black Sunday was nominated for the 1978 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture.
       Though not credited onscreen, Frankenheimer plays a television controller at the Super Bowl.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
7 Mar 1977.
---
Daily Gazette
4 June 2012.
---
Daily Variety
9 Feb 1977
p. 1, 12.
Daily Variety
17 May 2002.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 1977
p. 3, 14.
Los Angeles Times
27 Mar 1977
p. 56.
Los Angeles Times
4 Sep 2000
p. 2
Los Angeles Times
31 May 2002
p. D 5
New York Times
1 Apr 1977.
---
Variety
9 Feb 1977
p. 1, 12.
Variety
30 Mar 1977
p. 19.
Variety
17 May 2002.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Robert Evans Production
A John Frankenheimer Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr/Asst dir
2d unit dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Spec filming of football seqs by
Cam, N.F.L. Films, Inc.
Filmed in
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
SOUND
Re-rec mixer
Sd mixer
Sd eff ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff man
Opt eff & titles
Process consultant
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Miami loc casting
Scr supv
Goodyear Blimp pilot
Helicopter pilot
Football tech adv
Services by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Color by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Black Sunday by Thomas Harris (New York, 1975).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"The Star Spangled Banner," words by Francis Scott Key, music by John Stafford Smith, sung by Tom Sullivan, accompanied by Up With People [live at Super Bowl X, 18 Jan 1976].
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1977
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 1 Apr 1977
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
143
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24543
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On 12 November, Dahlia Iyad arrives at the airport in Beirut, Lebanon. Taking a taxi into town, she walks through narrow alleys and bazaars, then slips into the back seat of a waiting car. The vehicle takes her to a gated compound, where she meets Nageeb, a Palestinian co-conspirator. He shows her a secret film of an American prisoner of war named Mike Lander confessing his war crimes to his North Vietnamese captors. Nageeb admonishes Dahlia that she’s built an upcoming mission around Lander who is obviously unstable, but Dahlia insists she can control him. Dahlia tells Nageeb to destroy the film because it could compromise her mission. Confident that her plan will succeed, Dahlia records a statement on behalf of her guerrilla group, Black September, telling the American people that it’s time for them to pay for aiding Israel’s repression of the Palestinians. That night, Israeli commando Major David Kabakov leads a strike team against the compound. When Kalakov enters Nageeb’s room and kills him, he finds Dahlia taking a shower in the adjoining bathroom; however, he assumes she’s Nageeb’s mistress and doesn’t shoot her. Kabakov’s men gather evidence, including Dahlia’s tape recorder, and escape the compound before blowing it up. On 14 November, Mike Lander is piloting a Goodyear blimp above a football game at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. The head of the television crew is angry because Lander can’t get the blimp and its overhead camera in the right spot. But Lander brushes him off, knowing that no other pilot would even try to fly a dirigible in the high winds that day. On 17 November, in Washington, D.C., F.B.I. agent Sam Corley is ... +


On 12 November, Dahlia Iyad arrives at the airport in Beirut, Lebanon. Taking a taxi into town, she walks through narrow alleys and bazaars, then slips into the back seat of a waiting car. The vehicle takes her to a gated compound, where she meets Nageeb, a Palestinian co-conspirator. He shows her a secret film of an American prisoner of war named Mike Lander confessing his war crimes to his North Vietnamese captors. Nageeb admonishes Dahlia that she’s built an upcoming mission around Lander who is obviously unstable, but Dahlia insists she can control him. Dahlia tells Nageeb to destroy the film because it could compromise her mission. Confident that her plan will succeed, Dahlia records a statement on behalf of her guerrilla group, Black September, telling the American people that it’s time for them to pay for aiding Israel’s repression of the Palestinians. That night, Israeli commando Major David Kabakov leads a strike team against the compound. When Kalakov enters Nageeb’s room and kills him, he finds Dahlia taking a shower in the adjoining bathroom; however, he assumes she’s Nageeb’s mistress and doesn’t shoot her. Kabakov’s men gather evidence, including Dahlia’s tape recorder, and escape the compound before blowing it up. On 14 November, Mike Lander is piloting a Goodyear blimp above a football game at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. The head of the television crew is angry because Lander can’t get the blimp and its overhead camera in the right spot. But Lander brushes him off, knowing that no other pilot would even try to fly a dirigible in the high winds that day. On 17 November, in Washington, D.C., F.B.I. agent Sam Corley is called to the Israeli embassy to hear Dahlia’s tape. Kabakov tells Corley that Dahlia’s wording indicates that Dahlia's message was not a warning but rather a justification to be heard after a planned terrorist attack. He suspects the attack is planned for January. Kabakov recognizes Dahlia as the woman he saw in the shower, but he has no idea who she is. Meanwhile, Dahlia goes to Lander’s apartment in Los Angeles. Lander is an emotional wreck because Dahlia hasn’t contacted him in three days and he thinks she’s betrayed him. Dahlia calms him with a gift—a statuette of the Madonna made of an explosive compound that he needs for his project. Dahlia encourages Lander to pull himself together and go to his Veteran’s Administration rehabilitation meeting, so that he won’t lose his piloting job with Goodyear. Later that day, at the V.A., Lander reveals his bitterness. Despite his heroism and years as a P.O.W. in Vietnam, the Navy turned his wife against him and took away his commission. On the night of 23 November, Lander and Dahlia unload wooden crates from a freighter in the Long Beach harbor when a Coast Guard cutter approaches. Since Lander’s speedboat is faster and smaller, he’s able to evade them by running under a low bridge, but the Coast Guard reports the clandestine activity to the F.B.I. The freighter captain tells Corley that he knows nothing about the incident, but when Kabakov and fellow Israeli agent Robert Moshevsky sneak aboard the ship that night and threaten to slit the captain’s throat, he confesses that his crew delivered twelve crates to a man and a woman in masks. Just then, the phone rings, and when the captain answers it, the receiver explodes, killing the captain and injuring Kabakov. When Dahlia sees Kabakov on television being carried into the emergency room of a local hospital, she disguises herself as a Catholic nurse, breaks into the hospital drug room and fills a syringe with potassium chloride. However, Moshevsky spots her before she can get into Kabakov’s room and demands that she accompany him downstairs to the nurses’ station for identification. On the elevator Dahlia jabs the needle into his neck and kills him. As soon as Kabakov gets out of the hospital, he goes to the office of Muzi, the local importer in charge of Lander and Dahlia's shipment. Holding Muzi at gunpoint, Kabakov learns that the shipment was explosives, the woman called herself “Kaza” and the man who paid him was an Egyptian in Tripoli named Mamud al Bernardi. Meanwhile, on 3 December, Lander and Dahlia land a small plane at a desolate Mojave Desert airstrip to test an explosive device he’s designed for the mission. Lander gains the confidence of the airstrip’s sole caretaker and kills him by firing off hundreds of “steel rifle darts”—pieces of shrapnel—in one symmetrical blast. Ecstatic with his success, Lander tells Dahlia that 200,000 darts could cause significant damage if they were fired a hundred feet above the fifty-yard line of a football game from the Goodyear blimp. Back in Washington, D.C., Kabakov has a secret rendezvous near the Lincoln Memorial with an old intelligence rival, Egyptian Colonel Riaf, and convinces him that it’s in both of their interests that he find out who Kaza is. When the men meet again days later, Riaf has a photograph of Kaza and reveals that her real name is Dahlia Iyad. Riaf explains that Dahlia was born in Haifa (then Palestine) to an Arab father and German mother, and Israeli commandos killed the men of her family and forced her mother, sister and Dahlia into refugee camps, where only Dahlia survived. Days later, Dahlia hauls a speedboat-shaped trailer into Miami, Florida, and parks it in a locked storage area. When she checks into the downtown Hotel Edward, Palestinian agent Mohammed Fasil greets her with news that the Israelis have found out who she is. Although Fasil wants her to abort the mission and go into hiding, she refuses, insisting it’s already too far along. On 1 January, Corley and Kabakov are alerted that Dahlia has been spotted in Miami, but by the time they arrive, only Fasil is at the hotel. Before F.B.I. agents can apprehend Fasil, he shoots his way out and wages a running gun battle through the city until Kabakov kills him on the beach. When Kabakov and Corley search Fasil’s hotel room, the commando holds up a magazine with the Miami Orange Bowl on the cover. The two hurry to the Orange Bowl and try to convince stadium authorities that they need to cancel the upcoming Super Bowl game, but the authorities refuse and claim that the President has arranged to be at the event. Although security is enhanced and all flights over Miami during the Super Bowl are canceled, police helicopters and the Goodyear blimp are allowed to fly overhead. On the day before the game, Lander’s mission is stymied when Goodyear replaces him with another pilot named Farley. Assuring Lander that he needn’t worry, Dahlia goes to Farley’s hotel room, kills him and puts a “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door. The next morning, Lander joins his crew and tells them that Farley is sick. At the field the men prepare the blimp, lift off and head for the stadium. During the game, Lander starts a fire in one of the engines, which provides him with an excuse to hurry back to the field and fix it. Dahlia is waiting there with the trailer and helps to hook up Lander’s contraption to the underbelly of the blimp’s gondola, claiming it’s a last-minute request from CBS-TV. However, one of the television crewmen becomes suspicious and runs back to the CBS remote trailer. Lander follows the man and shoots him. Meanwhile, the police find Farley’s body at the hotel and alert the authorities that the blimp is the terrorists’ weapon. Lander and Dahlia use automatic weapons to kill the men on the blimp airfield, including several policemen and an F.B.I. man, then head back toward the stadium, dumping the gondola’s equipment to offset the added weight of the shrapnel. Kabakov and Corley commandeer a police helicopter and follow them, using the gondola’s limited visibility beneath the blimp to avoid detection. As Kabakov and Corley swoop down next to the gondola, Kabakov opens fire, killing Dahlia and wounding Lander, but it’s too late to stop the blimp. Using the helicopter’s cargo hook line, Kabakov slides down onto one of the blimp’s rear tails and connects it to the helicopter in time to pull the dirigible away from inside the stadium and toward the nearby ocean. In his final moments, Lander lights a backup fuse to detonate the bomb. Moments after the helicopter lifts Kabakov free from the blimp, Lander’s invention explodes in a ball of fire, spraying the ocean surface with shrapnel. With 80,000 lives saved, the helicopter flies back toward Miami. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.