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Book Review: The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984

Writer-filmmaker Austin Trunick’s exhaustive study of the Golan-Globus Cannon Films ,for BearManor Media, only essentially covers the company’s first years. And still, it is as thorough and fascinating as one can imagine. The amount of information contained in its massive 500-odd pages is enhanced by a cheerful approach that reminds us that the films Cannon made were meant to be good fun.

While its reputation was for making films that were aggressive and exploitative, Cannon produced movies that attracted such heavyweights as Robert Mitchum, Faye Dunaway, Christopher Lee, and Elliot Gould. But even its exploitative fare and weak films like Bolero provide interesting production histories and stories.

It was quite fascinating and revealing to discover that Dick Van Dyke was the original choice to play the role that eventually went to Oliver Reed in Dr Heckyl and Mr. Hype. In an era of sexualized teen comedies, it is quite fascinating that Cannon’s effort, The Last American Virgin, turned out to be a respected film in that sub-genre (the book’s chapter on that film includes interviews with actress Diane Franklin, among others).

One of the book’s most interesting chapters deals with the Death Wish series, featuring Charles Bronson. Nobody expected the original, produced by Dino DeLaurentis, to gross over five times its production costs back in 1974. And there were no plans for sequel eight years later when Cannon announced one in the trades. Golan-Globus would do that. They’d mention a project like Death Wish II in order to bring attention to the company, even though there were no plans to make one. However, DeLaurentis, who owned the rights to the original, saw that blurb in the trades and forced Cannon to purchase the rights or face charges of false advertising. Not wanting to reveal their ploy, Golan-Globus bought the rights, and then had to make the movie. It took some negotiating to get Charles Bronson to reprise his 8 year old role, especially since he also insisted the first film’s director, Michael Winner, be at the helm. Death Wish II was a violent mess, but a huge moneymaker, which led to an eventual series, and Charles Bronson to appear in more violent Cannon actioners like 10 To Midnight and Murphy’s Law. Author Trunick provides a wealth of fascinating details about the entire process. (Note: 10 to Midnight gets its own separate chapter, which includes an interview with director Andrew Stevens).

Cannon was able to gather horror icons Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, John Carradine and Vincent Price for House of Long Shadows. It compiled a cast with Robert Mitchum, Bruce Dern, Martin Sheen, Stacy Keach, and Paul Sorvino for their film adaption of Jason Miller’s Pulitzer-prize-winning drama That Championship Season.

The book concludes with a chapter on the Missing In Action series featuring Chuck Norris (the chapter containing an interview with screenwriter James Bruner). But this is only half the story. The publisher, and author, plan to eventually release a book on the second half of the story.

This is a book that has long needed to be written, and Trunick’s study is a truly magnificent achievement -- It is thorough, fascinating, amusing, and enlightening. This book is a must for libraries, research centers, and certainly film buffs to continue to use as a reference source. Looking forward to Volume 2.

The book can be ordered here: Cannon Vol 1

James L. Neibaur
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