You may notice that this is neither the week after my last column, nor is it about videogames based on movies. And I’m very sorry about that. That column is still coming. But I had to get back to the Cult of Action because Menahem Golan is dead.
Menahem Golan, for the unaware, ran Cannon Pictures with his cousin, Yoram Globus, from 1979 to 1989. Cannon, for those even more unaware (probably not anyone reading this column, but still), was a studio and distributor who specialized in both genre film and art house fair. I will not be discussing the latter, both as it doesn’t fall under the purview of this column and it’s not what they’re really well known for.
Cannon was actually started by Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey in the 1960s. The 1970s were unkind to Friedland and Dewey, and Cannon was having major money problems in 1979. Enter Golan and Globus. Cousins from Israel, they bought Cannon for half a million dollars and set about making the worst (read: cheapest) scripts they could and distributing foreign art house movies.
In the Golan/Globus era, Cannon became among the most infamous genre houses. Arguably, they were the last great exploitation house, and made a lot of money from the burgeoning home video and cable industries. If you can think of a B-rate actioner from the ’80s, it’s likely Cannon was involved. American Ninja? Cannon. Missing in Action? Cannon. The sublime Death Wish 3? Cannon. They were even the jumping off point for Jean-Claude Van Damme, releasing his first two starring features, Bloodsport and Cyborg.
Cannon released so many delightfully bad action films in the ’80s, one starts to lose track. They made them cheap and fast. And in the end, it was their reach exceeding their grasp that undid them. A combination of two ambitious bombs in the form of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (a film that even I find unwatchably bad) and Masters of the Universe (a film that would be unwatchably bad, were it not for a goddamn amazing performance from Frank Langella). This one-two punch of overbudget underperformers put Cannon in a tight spot, and the crash of the junk bond market in the late ’80s was essentially the death knell. Golan and Globus got out in ’89 and ’90 respectively. The studio effectively went out of business in 1990. It was absorbed by another studio, who was then absorbed by MGM, who then spun it off, but it wasn’t the same studio. In 1993, Cannon gave up the ghost.
And so, sadly, did Menahem Golan on August 8th of this year. But his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of action fans, horror fans, anime fans and superhero movie fans, as under Menahem Golan, Cannon released some of the best and worst of those genres.