Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Glutton for Punishment: SUPERDOME

by JB
Q: How many NFL managers need to solve a series of murders the same week their team plays in the Super Bowl?

A. None, I’m guessing; yet Superdome, a 1978 made-for-TV movie, suggests that it might be a yearly occurrence. Years ago, I was all set to write a column on this batshit broadcast television artifact because I purchased a copy of questionable legality at a Horror Con. (David Janssen in New Orleans? Sign me up!) When I realized that the average F This Movie! reader would find it difficult to obtain a copy, I tabled the idea… but now Kino Lorber has made no one’s dreams come true by releasing the film on Blu-ray disc. Be still, my beating heart!
The Plot in Brief: Excitement is high in New Orleans during Super Bowl Week. The non-existent but excellent NFL football team, the Cougars, is facing off against another non-existent but highly proficient NFL football team, the Marauders. Cougars GM Mike Shelley (David Janssen) wants his team to win, but first he needs to eat some catfish at his favorite dockside restaurant.

Lainie Wiley (Donna Mills) is a “journalist” in town to cover the Big Game; she strikes up a May/December romance with Shelley. P.K. Jackson (Clifton Davis) is a former Cougar player who has made it big in business; he is also in New Orleans. Chip Green (Van Johnson) is in sports management; he’s looking to sign Cougars Quarterback Jim McCauley (Tom Selleck) to a lucrative endorsement contract. Drug-addicted Tight End Dave Walecki (Ken Howard) knows that this is his last season; his wife Nancy (Susan Howard) suggests that their marriage is over and sleeps with a stranger to prove her point. Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith float around in the background, stealing every scene they are in; they also play for the Cougars.

Did I mention that screenwriter Barry Oringer is obviously using a disaster movie template for this project with too many narrative arcs and too many characters? Did I mention that at one point, Dick Butkus is arrested as a possible murder suspect, thrown in the clink, and completely forgotten about? Did I mention that SOMEONE is trying to kill stewardesses, athletic trainers, and supporting characters’ daughters in an attempt to influence the outcome of the Big Game?

That’s TERRIBLE. I mean, why not just kill the players? Eliminate the middle men!
I am genuinely surprised that the original audience for this stinker didn’t initiate some sort of class-action lawsuit after viewing the television broadcast. The film is titled Superdome; less than 12 minutes of its 97-minute running time actually takes place in the titular building. (The film also includes zero footage of actual football being played.) We get endless scenes in office buildings, restaurants, and Bourbon Street. Were the filmmakers given only a few precious hours of filming time in the Dome? I began to think that it was a clever misdirect, a red herring on the part of the screenwriter. Could the Superdome actually be… the MURDERER? I imagined the Superdome sneaking around New Orleans, holding a gun. I know this sounds far-fetched because the Superdome is four city blocks long—but one never knows. I imagining this breathless dialogue between two beat cops:

Cop #1
Be advised suspect is over ten stories tall and armed. Exercise extreme caution.

Cop #2
I thought the Superdome was on 1600 Sugar Bowl Drive.
What’s it doing hanging around the docks?


In fact, to add insult to injury, Superdome was retitled twice for its two VHS releases: Countdown to the Superbowl, which sounds like a pre-show with Howie Long, and The Superbowl Story, which sounds like a dry, NFL Films-style documentary. What interesting title choices for a film that contains zero minutes of any Superbowl! Both of these tape releases seemed designed to be purchased by well-meaning but befuddled grandmothers at Christmastime.

Did I do good, Bobby? I know how much you like the sports!

Yes, Mee-Maw.
(swallows hard after a lifetime of similar presents)
It’s great.
Just about the only thing this creaky excuse for entertainment gets right is a first act misdirect about the motivations of one of the characters. That piece of business is handled well and is reasonably surprising, but from about ten minutes in, I’m afraid we are stuck with a murder mystery in which it is painfully obvious Whodunnit. The identity of the killer is quickly made so obvious, I began to think it must instead secretly be David Janssen’s secretary Joyce, played by the inimitable Edie Adams, because otherwise WHY ON GOD’s GREEN EARTH WOULD EDIE ADAMS BE IN THIS? The filmmakers befuddle us with too many characters and a willfully disjointed plot that confuses cleverness with never telling the audience important information. I doubt many people will be surprised by the film’s inevitable final reveal.

Notice, I’m not spoiling it here – because you should watch Superdome! Why not? You like the sports!

At this point in many of my columns I take a moment to give a shout out to all the great character actors in many of these films, but in the case of Superdome, it’s a veritable Mardi-Gras parade of talented actors set adrift. Any film that wastes the talents of Van Johnson, Ken Howard, Vonetta McGee, Jane Wyatt, Edie Adams, and M. Emmet Walsh should be unceremoniously placed on contract waivers for the remainder of the season.

All of the network executives responsible for greenlighting this project… should be sacked.


  1. "Could the Superdome actually be... the MURDERER?" That sounds like a better plot than the one you described. A funny article, J.B. The alternate titles made me laugh the most. They seem like more deceptive titles than Superdome.

    The fictional names for the football teams bring to mind the names of Canadian Football League teams (Rough Riders, Tiger Cats, Argonauts, etc.) more than the NFL.