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Menahem Golan, 1929-2014

tn_golanAs you may have read, Menahem Golan, co-head of The Cannon Group (as well as 21st Century Film Corporation and New Cannan Group) died today at the age of 85. Don’t worry, he didn’t have to suffer from cancer or anything, he just collapsed while walking outside his home in Jaffa, and could not be revived. Golan was a filmmaker to the end, at least according to an IMDb listing that says he was in pre-production on a new ALLAN QUATERMAIN movie that he wrote and would’ve directed.

Like so many of the greats, Golan actually got his start working for Roger Corman, in his case as a production assistant on THE YOUNG RACERS in 1963. That same year he made his writing/directing debut with a Hebrew-language Israeli production called EL DORADO, starring Topol of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF fame. Throughout his career he would direct more than 40 films and produce more than 200. He and his cousin Yoram Globus started Noah Films, an Israeli production company known worldwide for the Oscar nominated satire SALLAH. But of course we know and love them for their reign as the heads of The Cannon Group, which they purchased in 1979 and turned into a prolific powerhouse of low budget action and exploitation in the VHS era.

I think we can all admit that Cannon made alot of crap. But they specialized in and pioneered the type of crap we love, and man did they have some classics too. My favorite Golan directorial works would have to be ENTER THE NINJA and OVER THE TOP. But the list of movies he produced that I love is alot longer. He presided over the entire ninja fad (REVENGE OF THE NINJA, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION, NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA, AMERICAN NINJA). He did the BREAKIN’ movies as well as RAPPIN’. He did sleaze like EXTERMINATOR 2. He had long relationships with Chuck Norris (INVASION USA is still pretty much my favorite of his movies) and more notably Charles Bronson (all of the DEATH WISH sequels, including of course our beloved DEATH WISH 3). Golan and Globus also hooked up with Tobe Hooper and produced LIFEFORCE, INVADERS FROM MARS and one of my all time favorites, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. And of course there’s COBRA. And their later sci-fi/fantasy type stuff like SUPERMAN IV, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE and CYBORG. I mean, so much of what you think of when you think of the enjoyable b-grade cinema in the ’80s, it’s Cannon.

One way that Golan’s work helped lead to the modern era of action: he was executive producer of fellow Israeli director Isaac Florentine’s first full length feature, DESERT KICKBOXER.

But did you know he also executive produced Godfrey Reggio’s POWAQQATSI? I mean, why not?

Let’s all pour one on the curb for Menahem Golan and discuss our favorite Cannon films.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
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25 Responses to “Menahem Golan, 1929-2014”

  1. Damn this is sad. So many memories. As a kid a lot of my favorite rentals had the New World Pictures, MEDIA home entertainment or Cannon logo at the beginning. A lot of the movies you named and even stuff like THE HITMAN, THE BARBARIANS and the Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies were a big part of my VHS renting childhood and teen years. As well as BLOODSPORT of course and STREET SMART. Golan was one of the pioneers who was always ambitious and never let a small budget get in his way. It was a great spirit for a movie exec to have. RIP.

  2. I love BARFLY on Cannon and Charles Bukowski’s account of the making of the film is hilarious in his novel HOLLYWOOD. The director Barbet Schroeder went on hunger strike and ended up threatening to saw off his fingers in order to make sure Cannon didn’t cut his budget any more. If only they had product placement in those days to help the finances (and fingers).

  3. Runaway Train. In the same year he produced American Ninja, King Solomon’s Mines, Death Wish 3 and Invasion USA. Busy man and a real schlockmeister.

  4. RUNAWAY TRAIN is my #1 for Golan and among top ten 80’s best. “Manny, take me with you.”

  5. Yeah, Runaway Train is probably, on balance, the best film associated with Cannon’s history. Most of the ‘respectable’ films that they bankrolled weren’t actually that great, but Runaway Train kicks all sorts of butt. Also, bonus points are awarded for giving an acting job to that scary looking guidance counselor who happened to be on set, what’s his name, Danny Tray-joe or sumptin. My favorite schlocky film from Cannon is the scrappy and action-packed Revenge of the Ninja, which the title undersells considerably. You get revenge and then some in that.

    Mr. Golan, if you were here now, I’d thank you for the late career work of Charles Bronson, getting Jean Claude Van Dame into pictures, and espeically for betting that the rest of the world would find ninja as fascinating as you apparently did (or maybe it was just Sho Kosugi you liked). The mystery nerd in me likes the Agatha Christie adaptations that Cannon made, but the realist in my must admit that the ITV-British productions are generally superior works of the same material. Maybe they would have been a bit better if they slotted some of their action stars in them, Van Damme as Poiriot? Nah, Bronson, he’s already got the mustache.

    And now I’m a little giddy imagining Charles Bronson attempting a Belgium accent.

  6. Don’t forget he directed THE APPLE, one of those musicals that must be seen to be believed. Quite terrible, yet its resurfaced in recent years as a move-so-bad-its-good cult title.

    So long Menahem, and thanks for the schlock (and occassional decentness!)

  7. Dikembe Mutombo

    August 8th, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    Aw man, I was just rewatching COBRA the other day. Better than I remembered! The Cannon era is something I have a lot of nostalgia for.

  8. Man, that’s a bummer to wake up to. Together with Dino DeLaurentiis, Golan/Globus were the first producers whose names I constantly noticed when watching a movie on TV. I’m not as cool as you, so my favourite Cannon childhood pic was MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.

    R.I.P. and thanks for the endless catalogue of sometimes more, often less good, but always interesting movies!

  9. Pacman'sFriendWildey

    August 9th, 2014 at 1:40 am

    I’m going to stick my neck out and say I think I like DEATH WISH 4 even more than DEATH WISH 3. It’s that perfect 80s action mix of generally well made but occasionally, amusingly incompetent (the exploding dummies), and of good dumb fun with clever touches. It’s arguably even a little subversive (SPOILERS?); Kersey joins the war on drugs at the behest of a drug dealer, and nobody wins.

    But I suppose DEATH WISH II has the greatest, er, sentimental value for me (this is perhaps the only time you’ll read “sentimental” and “DEATH WISH II” in the same sentence. Almost 9 years ago I checked the start out on TV late one night more out of curiosity about a famous franchise name than any real expectation of entertainment. I didn’t watch the whole thing there and then, but when I saw the “Do you believe in Jesus?” bit I became a Bronson fan for life.

    But these are just three of many movies I delighted in discovering at that time, and in the years since. R.I.P. big guy. I’m far more interested in THE GO-GO BOYS than any other forthcoming movie in any stage of production you can name, and that’s not because I don’t enjoy modern movies, these guys just were and are so fascinating.

    In the meantime here is a 1986 BBC documentary on Cannon I’ve been meaning to watch for a couple of months:
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x114o7f#user_search=1

  10. Dang. Alwys thought G&G were some of those few Hollyworld producers who really loved movies more than money. Hell, those few producers who really loved movies, period.

  11. Oh, I think people who release a movie like PRIVATE MANOEUVRES (1983) are more fond of money than film.

  12. Perhaps you all might like to know that Mark Hartley, who did “Not Quite Hollywood” and “Machete Maidens Unleashed”, has a documentary about Cannon Films coming out. It premiers at TIFF this year and I was kinda hoping, Golan and Globus would be present as guests.

  13. I was just watching a Golan/Globus production last night: 1982’s HOSPITAL MASSACRE. I was surprised to see that it was directed by DTV impressario-turned-theatrical throwback producer Boaz Davidson, whose LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN had also been made for Cannon. Some research showed that he also directed Cannon’s very last production, 1994’s AMERICAN CYBORG: STEEL WARRIOR I’ve no doubt that he learned a lot in his time working for Golan and Globus, and it’s cool to see that there’s a lineage of exploitation producers stretching back through mentorship and tutelage all the way from Roger Corman to the present day. Mr. Golan was an important link in that chain.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to pick a favorite Cannon joint, since their filmography is an embarrassment of riches for a dude with my tastes. I’m probably gonna have to go with COBRA, though. It might be the perfect sleazy cheesy eighties flick, encompassing the vigilante, satantic cult, hospital slasher, post-apocalyptic berserker, car chase, cop on the edge, fashion model being stalked, and probably innumerable other genres within its short running time. Cannon basically achieved perfection on its formula with that one.

  14. On second thought, it lacks ninjas and a Vietnam flashback. And maybe breakdancing, although the music video shoot with the robots might be a suitable substitute.

  15. “Get back! I got a bomb here! I’ll blow this whole place up!”

    “Go ahead. I don’t shop here.”

    And that is why COBRA will always be a favorite of mine. It might get a bad rap from the critics but any film that inspires the creation of a song like Angel of the City has to have some merit.

  16. Wow, I guess I’ll be bustin out my Cannon t-shirt tonite.
    His movies have a special place in my heart, but one of my favorite memories is discovering the craziness that is Ninja III with my cousins. What a blast.
    But my favorite is Runaway Train, I mean its actually a piece of cinematic art as opposed to “just” a piece of ass-kicking, grin-inducing awesomeness like a lot of his output. RIP pal

  17. The Original... Paul

    August 10th, 2014 at 1:46 am

    Man, this guy has produced a whole lot of movies that I acknowledge are kinda bad but still maintain a sneaking liking for. “Superman 4” for example.

    I also love “Runaway Train” by the way. Without wanting to give too much away for those who haven’t seen it (and who really, really should), I love that the movie finishes where it does. I’ve seen so many movies lately that have had variations of that same ending and have just done it really, really badly. “Runaway Train” shows how it’s done.

  18. I agree Paul. Inevitable ending, perfectly done.

    Been a few years since I saw it, but RT remains in my collection. Need to see it again. I remember Roberts and Voight demonstrating quality acting, probly peaking before they went dtv and hammy consecutively. Eddie Bunker also had advisory duties for the prison scenes.

  19. RUNAWAY TRAIN’s in a class of it’s own for sure. But I feel that’s more down to Andrei Konchalovskiy than Golan and Globus. The one we have to be really thankful for is BARFLY. A classic! And the background story, as Bukowski tells it in the book HOLLYWOOD, should be made into a movie. Of the more entertaining stuff Cannon produced I have to once again plug AVENGING FORCE. It’s Michael Dudikoff’s finest hour and a damn good piece of film making from writer James Booth and director Sam Firstenberg!

  20. Yeah I gotta see BARFLY. It’s buried in a pile of dvds I haven’t got around to watching yet. I think the depressing subject matter of alcoholics keeps me putting it off. Like that Jack Nicholson/Meryl Streep one from the 80’s, IRONWEED that I heard was good but never got to.

    Konchalovsky always struck me as an arty journeyman director, with no real defining themes or style, like Michael Winterbottom. RT is great due to a mix of unique prison location(somewhere in the icy arsehole of the world), a cast of character actors like Voight, Roberts, Bunker, the guy who plays the mean as fuck prison warden, John someone, who I first liked from the fucking awesome and under-fucking-appreciated THE MISSOURI BREAKS, and mostly because it’s about a goddamn runaway train!

  21. John P. Ryan. Brilliant actor. And he’s actually the baddie in AVENGING FORCE too.

  22. American Ninja 2:The Confrontation I think captures the spirit more than any other movie in the Cannon catalog. Honestly the best effort from Cannon would be either Runaway Train or Barfly on a technical level, but in terms of spirit none is captured better than American Ninja 2 which introduced “Super Ninjas!” who were maybe robots, maybe mutant clones and were easily dispatched by Dudikoff and Steve James.

    Honestly, I think that Cannon’s schlock such as American Ninja 1-2,Cobra, Bloodsport,Kickboxer, Death Warrant, Avenging Force, Invasion USA, Death Wish 2-5, MIA 1-2 and Delta Force etc are all must sees in their own ways.

    Also Golan and Globus also helped bankroll Avi Lerner and the guys from Millennium films who are pretty much making the same type of film, but who were backed on American Cyborg…a pretty lame movie that is noteworthy as the passing of the torch.

  23. Yeah the late John P Ryan, exceptional character actor. Ended his career on a high in BOUND as Mickey. Also in DEATH WISH 4.

  24. Inconspicuous, very very minor detail – RUNAWAY TRAIN was based on a screenplay by some Asian guy called Kurosawa or something…

  25. Kurosawa wanted Henry Fonda and Peter Falk for the leads. Somehow I doubt it would have been as hard hitting as Konchalovskiy’s version.

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