Black Sunday: Robert Shaw in Brown Silk at the Super Bowl

Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)


Robert Shaw as David Kabakov, experienced Mossad agent and Major

Miami, January 1976

Film: Black Sunday
Release Date: April 1, 1977
Director: John Frankenheimer
Costume Designer: Ray Summers

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!


It’s Super Bowl Sunday! To many of us, the Big Game (as the NFL would prefer us unlicensed folks call it) is an opportunity to spend a Sunday with friends, beer, and buffalo chicken dip while halfheartedly rooting for a team that we may not care about and catching a glimpse of some over-produced multimillion-dollar ad buys. For director John Frankenheimer, it’s an opportunity to yet again present the thrills and cynicism of ruthless criminals exploiting geopolitical dilemmas for their own gain with considerable human lives at stake. In short: Black Sunday.

After the Cold War had dominated culture of the ’60s, the zeitgeist shifted in ’70s toward anxiety around international terrorism, with events like the Munich massacre—an attack by the militant Black September organization that resulted in the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and a West German policeman during the 1972 Summer Olympics—still very fresh in global minds. This specific event inspired Thomas Harris to write his debut novel Black Sunday, which re-imagined the scenario by aligning Black September with a suicidal Navy veteran determined to crash his explosives-laden Goodyear blimp into eighty thousand attendees—including the President—during Super Bowl X.

The story was swiftly adapted into a screenplay by Ernest Lehman, Ivan Moffat, and Kenneth Ross, the latter of whom had penned the similarly themed The Day of the Jackal, also directed by John Frankenheimer. Bruce Dern and Marthe Keller respectively star as the self-destructive blimp pilot and the seductive Black September operative who team up opposite Robert Shaw as Major David Kabakov, a grizzled Mossad counter-terrorist whose hunt for them intensifies after the death of his colleague.

After the hunt leads Kabakov and his FBI counterpart Sam Corley (Fritz Weaver) to Miami, Kabakov realizes that the plan likely involves an atrocity committed during the Super Bowl and meets with Miami Dolphins founder Joe Robbie, making a cameo as himself.

Kabakov: With Black September, there’s no way you can take every possible precaution. They know exactly what they’re going to do, why, and when. The only way we can take every possible precaution is to cancel the game.
Robbie: Cancel the Super Bowl? That’s the most ridiculous suggestion I’ve ever heard. That’s like canceling Christmas!

Joe Robbie and Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)

Joe Robbie cameos as himself in a brief scene with Robert Shaw, whose brown leather jacket I’ll have to write about in a later post.

Once the production was surprisingly supplied with a legitimate Goodyear blimp, the challenge arose to depict the Big Game itself. The NFL also cooperated with the production, allowing footage to be secured when the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Dallas Cowboys during Super Bowl X on January 18, 1976; as a Pittsburgher, it’s cool to see coach Chuck Noll and players from the legendary ’76 team like Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, the late Franco Harris, and the famous “Steel Curtain” defensive line, all while fans bedecked in black and gold hoist their cans of Iron City.

The Steel Curtain in Black Sunday (1977)

Go Steelers!

A week and a half after the Steelers beat the Cowboys 21-17, the Miami Dolphins stepped in for additional shots, dressed in Cowboys and Steelers uniforms for continuity. Interestingly, the actor who briefly portrays “the President” more resembles Jimmy Carter than Gerald Ford, who was still in office at the time Black Sunday was filmed in early 1976.

There are certainly aspects of Black Sunday that felt bizarre—for instance, the climactic blimp explosion does not pay off for me—but I was otherwise impressed to see how Frankenheimer et al pulled this off, with plenty of gratuitous footage reminding us of the fact that we’re often watching an actual Super Bowl being played behind Robert Shaw on the sidelines. This felt especially impactful during the soaring shot that began with Dahlia driving her Delta 88 hitched to a speedboat full of explosives before cinematographer John A. Alonzo’s camera pulled back and panned over into the Miami Orange Bowl stadium full of Super Bowl fans, zooming onto the field where Kabakov stands vigilant.

What’d He Wear?

Major Kabakov arrived in Miami on New Year’s Day wearing the brown leather sport jacket he had with him in D.C., eventually updating his wardrobe for Magic City’s tropical climate that remains unseasonably warm in winter.

It’s difficult to imagine dressing for a modern American football game like Kabakov does, swathed in a distinctive collarless jacket made of brown dupioni silk, evident by the irregular slubs and the way the material shines under the sun.

Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)

Kabakov’s collarless jacket defies any simple classification, to the extent of my sartorial knowledge, though the cut recalls “loafer jackets” or “Hollywood jackets” that were the 1940s precursor to ’70s leisure jackets. The jacket has a two-button front, similar to a traditional sport jacket. A vertical pleat strip runs down each side of the front, from the shoulder seam to behind the semi-bellowed hip pocket, and the ventless back is semi-belted across the waist. The wide shoulders have significant padding, though loose through the sleeves down to the gathered cuffs with their large, shirt-style single-button closure.

Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)

Kabakov wears a cream-colored long-sleeved camp shirt, styled with a breast pocket, button cuffs, and a plain front (also known as a French placket.)

Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)

Kabakov navigates the crowd of Steelers fans bedecked in black and gold and hoisting cans of Iron City.

Kabakov’s trousers are dark-gray gabardine flat front slacks with side pockets, jetted back pockets (with a button through the back left), and plain-hemmed bottoms. He holds them up with a hefty brown leather belt that closes through a brass-finished single-prong buckle.

Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)

You’ll thank yourself for keeping your pants up with a sturdy belt while you’re clambering over the side of an explosives-laden Goodyear blimp.

Chukka boots had emerged as casual footwear through the mid-20th century, named for the seven-minute periods of play in polo, where the ankle-high derby-laced boot style is said to have been popularized. Kabakov wears dark brown leather plain-toe chukka boots with two-eyelet lacing and black outsoles. Especially around the toes, the leather boot uppers show plenty of wear. His socks are plain black.

Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)

You’ll also thank yourself for keeping your shoes firmly laced!

The day before, Kabakov had led interviews of the blimp team, including the intended pilot Farley (Tom McFadden), while wearing the same outfit though with a gold polyester shirt typical of the disco era with its long-pointed collar and white pearl-esque plastic buttons up the front placket and through the breast pocket yoke.

Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)

The Watch

Throughout Black Sunday, Kabakov clearly wears a Rolex GMT Master ref. 1675 that, according to IMDB, was director John Frankenheimer’s own “prized Rolex”. This GMT Master features the distinctive combination of brown and gold that resulted in nicknames like “Root Beer” Rolex and “Eye of the Tiger”, evolving into updated models like the ref. 1675/3 and ref. 16753 that would be famously worn by Clint Eastwood.

Worn on a dark brown leather strap, Kabakov’s Rolex has a stainless steel 40mm case and lugs, contrasted by the 18-karat yellow gold bezel with its duo-toned finish. This rotating 24-hour scale bezel has the even-numbered hour indices printed from 2 to 22, with the top half of the 24-hour bezel is brown with gold-printed indices while the “daylight” bottom half presents the inverse of brown-printed indices against a gold background. The brown “nipple dial” is known as such for the slightly protruding round hour indices on the dial itself, lume-filled for additional visibility like the baton indices at 6 and 9 o’clock and the triangular index at 12 o’clock. A gold date window is positioned at 3 o’clock.

Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)

Take good care of that Rolex, Major Kabakov!

1970s Rolex GMT Masters on eBay

The Guns

Kabakov carries a snub-nosed Colt Lawman MK III as his service sidearm. The Lawman was introduced in 1969 as the “service grade” variant of the Colt Trooper—itself described by IMFDB as the “Poor Man’s Python”—though the MK III lineup was considered a major improvement for Colt revolvers, which had not undergone a significant design refresh since the early 20th century.

As its name implied, the Lawman was intended primarily for use among law enforcement, able to fire .357 Magnum and .38 Special ammunition as was the contemporary standard for service revolvers. The Lawman was configured with either a full four-inch barrel or the shorter two-inch barrel, as carried by Kabakov, while finishes ranged from the basic “Colt Royal Blue” to two nickel finishes.

Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)

The shroud-less ejector rod and distinctive front sight shape help identify Kabakov’s revolver as the Colt Lawman MK III rather than the more frequently seen—and slightly smaller—Colt Detective Special.

After Kabakov realizes that he’s likely outgunned by the terrorists taking off in the Goodyear blimp, FBI Agent Corley offers that he’s “got a high-powered rifle and a submachine gun in the trunk” of his sedan. Kabakov takes the former, a sporterized Springfield M1903 bolt-action rifle, as he and Corley commandeer a Goodyear helicopter to chase the rogue blimp.

Corley’s trunk rifle that’s wielded by Kabakov illustrates one of the many examples of the early 20th century M1903 Springfield military rifles that were later converted to hunting purposes by shortening the fore-end and affixing a long-range telescopic scope.

Robert Shaw and Fritz Weaver in Black Sunday (1977)

Kabakov and Corley prepare to battle the Goodyear blimp.

After Corley gets wounded, he takes the agent’s blowback-operated Smith & Wesson M76 submachine gun, ultimately using this to bring the day’s events to their explosive conclusion.

The M76’s interesting history began in the mid-1960s, when the U.S. Navy contacted Smith & Wesson about contracting them for a 9x19mm Parabellum submachine gun to effectively replace the Carl Gustaf m/45 currently in service among Navy SEALs. The Navy had no issue with the reliable m/45, but it was instead the manufacturing company based in neutral Sweden who objected to its weapon being used in war.

Despite some cosmetic and operational similarities to the m/45, Smith & Wesson designed the M76 from scratch, rushing it into production just nine months later at the start of 1967 without the usual finishing touches to make their firearms attractive and marketable. Thus, the resulting M76 was an efficient brute that represented pure function over form, firing 9mm ammunition at a rate of 720 rounds per minute from box magazines with capacities up to 36 rounds.

Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)

Although the M76 development had once been considered a top priority for the Navy, it eventually saw only limited combat use in Vietnam before production ended in 1974. (“M76” denotes “Model 76”, but this doesn’t represent the year of production as Smith & Wesson had ceased to manufacture the weapon two years before 1976. Instead, it’s merely a continuation of their standard numbering system as found on Smith & Wesson revolvers like the Model 10, 15, 19, 29, and 36, or their semi-automatic handguns like the Model 39 and 59.)

How to Get the Look

Robert Shaw in Black Sunday (1977)

David Kabakov dresses for his mission at the Super Bowl in a casual outfit that recalls the elegance of 1940s leisure-wear, which may be contextually unexpected for a football game—even one as high-profile as the Super Bowl—though this is consistent with his relative unfamiliarity with the sport and its reverence in American tradition.

  • Brown dupioni silk 2-button collarless loafer jacket with front pleat strips, semi-bellowed hip pockets, 1-button shirt-style cuffs, and semi-belted ventless back
  • Cream long-sleeved camp shirt with breast pocket, plain front, and button cuffs
  • Dark-gray gabardine flat-front slacks with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Brown leather belt with brass single-prong buckle
  • Dark brown leather plain-toe 2-eyelet chukka boots
  • Black cotton lisle socks
  • Rolex GMT Master ref. 1675 “Root Beer” automatic watch with stainless steel 40mm case, 18-karat yellow gold bezel (with brown-and-gold duotone fill), brown “nipple dial” with 3 o’clock date window, and dark brown leather strap

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

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