Black Sunday (1977) – Blu-ray Review

4.5 Stars Frankenheimer's 1970s espionage thriller arrives on Blu-ray
Black Sunday Screenshot Review

Starting his career in television, John Frankenheimer made his directorial debut with The Young Stranger (1957), an experience that – by his own account – wasn’t all that great. When he made his second movie The Young Savages (1961), he would soon hit a major stride during the rest of the decade with a string of critical and commercial hits – and some that would later be reappraised positively – including The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), The Train (1965), Seconds (1966) and Grand Prix (also 1966). The 1970’s were more of a feast or famine decade for Frankenheimer, which Black Sunday falls into the former category. Paramount released the movie on DVD and Imprint released a Region Free Blu-ray, but Arrow has given the movie its first Blu-ray release here in the States.

Black Sunday (1977)
Released: 01 Apr 1977
Rated: R
Runtime: 143 min
Director: John Frankenheimer
Genre: Adventure, Crime, Drama
Cast: Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, Marthe Keller
Writer(s): Thomas Harris, Ernest Lehman, Kenneth Ross
Plot: Black Sunday is the powerful story of a Black September terrorist group attempting to blow up a Goodyear blimp hovering over the Super Bowl stadium with 80,000 people and the president of the United States in attendance.
IMDB rating: 6.8
MetaScore: 57

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Arrow Video
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English PCM 1.0 (Mono), English PCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 2 Hr. 23 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Clear keep case with reversible cover and slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 03/28/2023
MSRP: $39.95

The Production: 4.5/5

Following a daring raid on the Beirut headquarters of the Black September terrorist group, Mossad agent David Kabakov (Robert Shaw) discovers an audio tape made by Dahlia Iyad (Marthe Keller) that was to be used following an attack on American soil. Though initially skeptical at first, FBI agent Sam Corley (Fritz Weaver) agrees to help Kabakov track down Iyad and disturbed Vietnam War veteran Michael J. Lander (Bruce Dern); as it turns out, both Dahlia and Lander have planned to use the Goodyear blimp he pilots to explode lethal metal darts inside the Orange Bowl in Miami during the Super Bowl. Now as the violence escalates leading up to the big day, both Kabakov and Corley have to stop the nefarious plot before the beaches and waters of South Florida runs red with the blood of thousands of innocent football fans.

One of the best “ripped from the headlines” thrillers of the decade, Black Sunday is a compelling look at the kind of terror that’s become all too familiar today in the post 9/11 world. Director John Frankenheimer – working from a script by Ernest Lehman, Kenneth Ross and Ivan Moffat based upon the novel by Thomas Harris – creates an intelligent and suspenseful story of those willing to resort to mass terror and die for furthering their cause and those just as willing to stop them. There’s also a degree of hyperrealism here, as the movie – shot by the great cinematographer John A. Alonzo – utilizes actual footage from Super Bowl X at the Orange Bowl, which figures prominently in the film’s climax; the fact that Frankenheimer was able to secure the cooperation of both Goodyear and the National Football League in order to make the film is something that makes this movie one that will probably never be made again in this way due to the controversy it would attract today. In addition to the solid performances all around, the movie also benefits from the presence and contributions of equally solid collaborators behind the camera: the aforementioned Alonzo, composer John Williams, film editor Tom Rolf and art director Walter H. Tyler in addition to Frankenheimer, Lehman, Ross, Moffat and producer Robert Evans; despite all that talent, the film’s box office performance was underwhelming considering the fact that the film tested highly in previews and two other wild cards: first, the special effects were not ready for the original release date around Christmas 1976 and second, Two-Minute Warning (1976) – a movie with a similar theme but different circumstances – premiered before the new release date in April 1977, likely hurting this movie’s prospects. Despite the letdown box office wise, Black Sunday has survived over the years and has garnered a growing base of fans due to its daringness to tackle a subject that was once thought of as unthinkable – a prospective terrorist attack on American soil – that has unfortunately come to pass since its initial release.

Still relatively fresh off of his most notable American role as Quint in Jaws (1975), Robert Shaw makes a solid and stoic lead as Major Kabakov; he would make three more films before passing away from a heart attack during the post-production of his last film Avalanche Express in 1978. In another one of his notable unhinged outsider parts, Bruce Dern gives another solid performance as the disturbed Vietnam vet Lander; he would earn his first Oscar nomination the next year for playing another disturbed Vietnam veteran – at least this one wouldn’t take part in a massive terrorist plot – in Hal Ashby’s Coming Home. Fresh off of a Golden Globe nomination for her first American film – Marathon Man (1976) – Marthe Keller is both seductive as well as dangerous in her portrayal of Black September terrorist Dahlia Iyad; Fritz Weaver – another Marathon Man alumnus – is equally solid as the FBI agent Corley. Rounding out the cast here are Steven Keats as fellow Mossad agent Moshevsky, Bekim Fehmiu as the Black September leader Fasil, Michael V. Gazzo as importer Muzi, Walter Gotell – in a notable non-villainous part – as Colonel Riat, Clyde Kusatsu as Captain Ogawa and William Daniels in a walk-on part as VA doctor Harold Pugh; Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie, journalist Robert Wussler and sportscasters Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier appear as themselves, while Tom Sullivan accompanied with Up With People perform the National Anthem in the Super Bowl footage and director John Frankenheimer also makes an uncredited cameo appearance as the director during the broadcast.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

This Blu-ray release presents the film in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, taken from an HD master done by Paramount with additional color grading and picture restoration done by Arrow Films. Film grain, color palette and fine details are all faithfully represented with only minor cases of scratches, dirt, tears and dust present. This release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video and represents a substantial improvement over the Paramount DVD and an improvement over the Imprint Blu-ray.

Audio: 5/5

There are three audio options on this Blu-ray release: a lossless 1.0 PCM track (featuring the film’s original mono soundtrack restored for the first time on home video), a 2.0 stereo PCM track and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. All three tracks exhibit clear, strong and faithful presentations of dialogue, sound mix and John Williams’ tense music score with only minimal cases of distortion, crackling, popping or hissing present. Overall, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video and the addition of the original mono soundtrack makes this an improvement over the Imprint Blu-ray.

Special Features: 4/5

Commentary by film scholar Josh Nelson – Newly recorded for this release, Nelson goes into great detail about the film’s production, differences between the film and the Thomas Harris novel and the cultural atmosphere in America at the time of the film’s release.

It Could Be Tomorrow (29:30) – Film critic Sergio Angelini looks at the film’s place in the greater pantheon of the disaster genre and the “ripped from the headlines” style of thriller during the 1970’s in this visual essay.

The Directors: John Frankenheimer (58:35) – An TV episode from 2003 – from the TV series – chronicling the life and career of the director (who passed away a year prior to this broadcast); featuring interviews with Frankenheimer prior to his passing, Kirk Douglas, Roy Scheider, Samuel L. Jackson, Rod Steiger, Angela Lansbury, Clarence Williams III, Salome Jens, Martin Manulis, Ann-Margret, Frederic Forrest, Edward Lewis, Robert Cooper, Evans Evans (Frankenheimer’s widow) and archival interviews with Frank Sinatra and George Axelrod.

Image Gallery (45)

Booklet feat. an essay by author Barry Forshaw (1st pressing only)

Notably missing here from the Region Free Imprint Blu-ray are a commentary track by Stephen Prince, a featurette on the John Williams score and the film’s theatrical trailer.

Overall: 4.5/5

Despite falling short of high expectations at the box office (although garnering some decent critical notices), Black Sunday is still one of the best thrillers of the 1970’s that’s due for reappraisal. Arrow’s new Blu-ray release should aid in its reappraisal with a terrific HD transfer and a decent slate of special features (though not everything from past releases couldn’t be carried over). Very highly recommended.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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Polbroth

Stunt Coordinator
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Oct 2, 2022
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Taylor
I've always been curious about this movie - amazing director, and how far wrong can you go with Robert Shaw?
 

uncledougie

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Jun 17, 2022
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Doug
By coincidence I found one store copy in stock this past week and picked it up. Having seen it during its original release, it quickly rose to the top ranks in my estimation of the type of edge of the seat thrillers of its era, thanks to Frankenheimer’s always astute managing of the action and interplay among the characters. I’m looking forward to seeing this edition which will better the old DVD by a wide margin, I’m confident.
 

Wayne Klein

Supporting Actor
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Mar 9, 2005
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The ending seems to just kind of lay there for me but it does built nicely. I have to wonder if I should wait for. 4K.
 

Randy Korstick

Senior HTF Member
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Feb 24, 2000
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Great to hear this is a big improvement over previous releases as the movie is a favorite of mine so I will be getting this.
 

Moleman X

Agent
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Rob Peace
I never knew the shoddy effects work in the finale was due to a time crunch, but that makes sense. If the effects don't ruin the finale, they certainly give it a hard knee to the groin. Everything up to the Super Bowl attack had such a flawless level of verisimilitude. The switchover was jarring, even to my 15-year-old eyes. I still think it's a very very good film, but it's maybe the one movie they could buff up with CGI and I wouldn't squawk.
 

James Luckard

Second Unit
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James Luckard
I have the Imprint Blu-ray. Is there a difference with the Arrow release?
- the windowboxed opening sequence has been corrected
- the audio commentary is by someone who actually knows a great deal about the film's production and history, unlike the one on the Imprint

It's one of my top 10 favorite films, I have both discs. :)
 

Jack P

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Apr 15, 2006
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Jack
Yes, a much better job on this commentary than the other release, especially since this one also goes into the background of the original novel and notes the changes made from book to screen. The first commentary even missed Frankenheimer's cameo as the Super Bowl TV director. The only thing the new release lacks is the trailer (which reveals deleted material from the climax) and a feature on John Williams score.
 
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