Thursday, September 17, 2020

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Cannon's Catalog Volume 1


By Austin Trunick

530 pages; softcover; B/W photos; 1st edition 2020

Written in a very relaxed style, it's the Cannon story (when Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus took over the company from Dennis Friedland and Christopher C. Dewey in 1979) told from a fan's perspective spanning three volumes. Over three dozen titles in Cannon's catalog are covered in volume one: from their humble beginnings producing comedies and horror films; and on into their flashier period producing some of the decades best action pictures starring Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris and Sho Kosugi; to their critically lambasted bombs; and even some acclaimed pictures sprinkled into the mix. It's an ambitious undertaking that is sure to be a hit with Cannon-ites and disciples of 80s cinema.

The 1980s was a great time to be alive. It was a ten year explosion of themes and ideas that produced innumerable pop culture icons that, for better or worse, are still remembered today. From the clothes, to the big hair, to the toys, to the music and movies, everything was big in the 1980s. As for the movies, action and horror were big business throughout the decade. Filmmakers had the opportunities and freedom to make the films they wanted. One film studio in particular wasn't shy about taking chances on commodities... proven or otherwise.

The Cannon Group was an idea factory run by two risk-takers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Regardless of the quality (or lack thereof) of the standard Cannon picture, or what Hollywood thought of them, Golan-Globus were like an unruly rock band doing what they wanted outside the system. They had a brief, if remarkably ambitious run in the 1980s before running out of money in the early 90s. Their story is being told over the span of three hefty volumes written by Austin Trunick.

In their heyday, The Cannon Group produced some of the flashiest independent motion pictures on the planet. Major studios and critics held disdain for the company's output and the two men that made them, the dynamic duo of Golan and Globus. The negative stigma attributed to the movies they produced extends to this day; although both their fan-base and an appreciation for a number of their productions has grown in the ensuing years. However, they did make (and distribute) a lot of genuinely bad movies and overextended themselves to the point they could no longer sustain their filmmaking empire.

Within The Cannon Film Guide's plentiful pages (more than 500 in this first volume) you'll find 16 interviews with Cannon alumni; among them Catherine Mary Stewart, Diane Franklin, Andrew Stevens, Luigi Cozzi, Kane Kosugi, and Sam Firstenberg. Sam is especially important as he is arguably the most identifiable director with the Cannon style. He was with them from virtually the beginning to the end. The interview with screenwriter James Bruner (MISSING IN ACTION; INVASION USA; THE DELTA FORCE) discussing his time working with Chuck Norris that closes the volume is worth the price alone.

The meat and potatoes are the stories about the making of the movies; some are more extensive than others, and some have never been widely covered before. You'll learn how HERCULES 2 (1984) went from reshoots for Bruno Mattei's THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS (1983) to a full-length feature; and the crazy, questionable goings-on to bring the epic Brooke Shields disaster SAHARA (1983) to the screen.

Additionally, the author admits this isn't a complete Cannon history as films they only distributed are not accounted for; although at least one Cannon production, the OMEN-style horror film THE GODSEND (1980), is not included. To my knowledge, it's the only Cannon feature to be co-produced with one of the former company owners. Moreover, the years prior to G&G purchasing the company from Dennis Friedland and Christopher C. Dewey (who produced John G. Avildsen's 1970 dramatic thriller JOE; and distributed great Drive-in fare like FISTS OF THE DOUBLE K and THE NO MERCY MAN) are briefly explored in the Introduction. 
For as massive an undertaking as this endeavor is, mistakes are bound to find their way in. Other than the omission of THE GODSEND, another oversight is in the DEATH WISH 2 (1981) section where Bronson is referred to as the villain in Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968). Bronson did play the villain in GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN from the same year, so that could be where the mix-up derived from. 

The years covered in volume one run between 1980 and 1984. Where films with sequels that fall outside this bracket, Trunick includes them all together. For example, the MISSING IN ACTION trilogy spans 1984-1988 but all three are covered together in the same chapter. Initially this felt kind of awkward, but seemed practical considering it will likely balance out over the course of three volumes with so many films to cover. 

With multiple books or documentaries on Cannon and those who worked for them out or in the works, as well as interviews elsewhere (see our two part Sam Firstenberg interview HERE and HERE), the company is receiving a newfound reappraisal. There's lots to like here in what amounts to a sprawling edition devoted to a dearly beloved, as well as much-maligned, movie studio. The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1 begins a three-part, nostalgic celebration for their fans--looking back to a time when action heroes were as rampant as the crazy ideas Golan and Globus put them in.

You can order the book from the publisher HERE, or from amazon HERE
Austin Trunick also has his own film and music review website that you can read HERE.

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