Directed by: John Frankenheimer
Starring: Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, Marthe Keller, Fritz Weaver
File John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday (1977) under the “cinema of paranoia”—a kind of thriller sub-genre that was already sputtering to a close by the time this film was made. The tale—of an attempt by the Black September terrorist organization to kill thousands of Americans at the Super Bowl with a special shrapnel bomb, a deranged Vietnam veteran (Bruce Dern, of course), and the Goodyear Blimp—has started to be viewed as almost prophetic in our post 9/11 world. And the parallels are striking, if definitely on the fanciful side as presented here. Plus, I doubt very much that anyone involved with the film was trying to be prophetic or even issue a warning. The film feels too contrived for that, and movies that trade in paranoia for purposes of suspense are nothing new. Whatever the case, the results are something of a mixed bag—and one not helped by the film’s behemoth two-and-a-half-hour running time—two hours of which are spent setting up the movie’s big climax. This makes for a pretty slow-moving thriller. It’s also one—in the scene where our heroes try to fasten a hook on the deadly blimp—that crosses that thin line between suspenseful and just plain tedious. And it’s hard to deny—though there are those who do—that the ending suffers from an apparent paucity of budget. The effects work is just not convincing, and the biggest of the big moments is laughable and offhand in a way that’s not just a budgetary problem, but one that suggests frank indifference. However, the acting is good—especially from Dern in his over-the-top mode—and parts of the film are exciting. But I draw the line at finding it to be any sort of a classic.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Black Sunday at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 5, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.