“Cannon is the only company that loves cinema. Cinema is our life!” says Yoram Globus.
When I think of Cannon Films, I think of Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus and the notoriety they achieved in the 1980s with such schlock as Missing In Action, The Delta Force, Breakin’, Over the Top, Kickboxer, Sahara, The Last American Virgin, etc. Although they produced mainly bad films (many of which became entertainingly bad), they did manage to produce a few surprisingly good films (the Oscar-nominated Runaway Train perhaps being the best of the good ones). I first came across the history of Cannon Films when I was doing research for a term paper several years ago that I was writing on what events specifically led to the end of the Christopher Reeve Superman film franchise; you can read “Superman’s Quest For Peace” Part 1 here and Part 2 here). I recently had the chance to see Mark Hartley’s excellent new documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films at a special screening at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City, which was introduced by Robin Sherwood (who played Charles Bronson’s daughter in Death Wish II). It was hilarious, entertaining, and very informative (even though I already knew a good amount of the info presented in the film).
2014’s Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films recounts the early days of Cannon when it was formed in 1967 and run by Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey (they made English language versions of Swedish softcore porn films and later a string of large scale, low budget films). In 1979, Cannon’s financial woes led to the company being sold to Golan and Globus, who loved cinema so much they produced a ton of Cannon films without any regard for quality. Interviewees include Franco Nero (Enter the Ninja), Dolph Lundgren (Masters of the Universe), Alex Winter (Death Wish 3), Martine Beswick (The Happy Hooker Goes To Hollywood), Richard Chamberlain (King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold), Elliot Gould (Over the Brooklyn Bridge), Lucinda Dickey (Breakin’, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, Ninja III: The Domination), Michael Dudikoff (American Ninja and Platoon Leader), Sybil Danning (Hercules), directors John G. Avildsen (Joe), Tobe Hooper (Lifeforce, Invaders From Mars, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Franco Zeffirelli (Otello, which he considers his best film ever), Just Jaeckin (Lady Chatterley’s Lover), and Gary Goddard (Masters of the Universe). Female nudity in a number of Cannon films is discussed by actresses such as Bo Derek (Bolero), Marina Sirtis (The Wicked Lady and Death Wish 3), Laurene Landon (America 3000), and Olivia D’Abo (Bolero).
Cannon’s financial woes and shady financing in the mid-to-late 1980s get a good amount of coverage; their move to larger-budgeted films partially helped to bring about their downfall with such expensive flops as Lifeforce, Invaders From Mars, and Masters of the Universe. One of my favorite parts was the section on Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (its budget being slashed by more than half and the corner-cutting Cannon did with the special effects helped seal the film’s fate). At the height of their success, they produced more films per year than any other studio and owned a large number of movie theaters in Europe. The few good films they accidentally made included John Cassavetes’ Love Streams, Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly, Jerry Schatzberg’s Street Smart, Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear, and Fred Schepisi’s A Cry In the Dark. Golan and Globus managed to make action stars out of guys like Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, and Jean-Claude Van Damme and gave filmmakers a large amount of creative control.
Hartley’s doc covers a lot of ground in 107 minutes (including the aftermath of Golan and Globus’ split) but doesn’t feel fast-paced and delivers many outrageous but true anecdotes. Golan and Globus appear in plenty of archival footage (after refusing to participate in this film, they commissioned their own competing Cannon documentary, The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, which they managed to premiere three months before Hartley’s film). If you’ve ever watched any number of Cannon films, then you’ll enjoy this doc immensely (and if you’ve never seen a Cannon film, then this doc serves as a great introduction to them).