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Marthe Keller in Black Sunday

2012 TCM Classic Film Festival

Robert Evans and Leonard Maltin. Photo by E. M. Pio Roda courtesy of TCM.

Robert Evans and Leonard Maltin. Photo by E. M. Pio Roda courtesy of TCM.

Marthe Keller [Marathon Man (1976)] is one of the great actresses from the 1970s who doesn’t get talked about much these days. In Black Sunday (1977), directed by John Frankenheimer [The Manchurian Candidate (1962)] and produced by festival guest Robert Evans, she plays, of all things, a Palestinian terrorist. Because of her accent, I spent the better part of the movie believing her character Dahlia was a member of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the German Red Army Faction who allied themselves with terrorist groups in the Middle East. What’s revealed, however, is that Dahlia Iyad was born in Haifa to a Palestinian father and a German mother, conveniently explaining away her German accent. Putting that aside, she makes Dahlia’s fanaticism and rage convincing. This is not the case of an outsider being swept up in someone else’s cause as was the case with Diane Keaton’s character in The Little Drummer Girl (1984). Dahlia is a variation of the intriguing “foreign” woman the Swiss beauty Keller was usually assigned to play in American films. Dahlia has seduced and enlisted a turncoat former POW, Michael Lander (Bruce Dern), into her group’s scheme to blow up the Super Bowl. It’s one of Dern’s best “psycho” performances.Black Sunday is deeply cynical with the worst aspects of a football centric American culture on display. From Silence of the Lambs novelist Thomas Harris, the story seemed far-fetched at a time when terrorism was considered a European problem. In the movie, the Israeli intelligence agent played by Robert Shaw struggles to convince everyone from the President on down to take the threat seriously. As Bob Evans remarked, his film is more relevant today than ever.