Menahem Golan: An Appreciation
It would be nice to think that, in his final days, Menahem Golan somehow heard about the Tuesday night screening of Cobra in Wrocław, Poland, last month. The country's biggest film festival, T-Mobile New Horizons, had procured a near-pristine 35 mm print of the 1986 Sylvester Stallone vehicle, which Golan produced and George Pan Cosmatos directed. A large, youthful audience turned out expecting some cheesy, dated blast from the past — but while there was no shortage of mocking laughter at many of Stallone and Cosmatos' deadpan excesses, generous applause as the end credits rolled signified genuine appreciation for what has proven a startlingly weird example of rock-the-house Reagan-era reactionary rabble-rousing, pitched somewhere between late Dario Argento and early Michael Mann.
How much of this was Golan's doing? Probably very little. Cobra was one of 20 releases for which he received a producing credit in 1986 alone (17 as producer, three as EP). As usual, the range was wildly eclectic: Lee Marvin's swan song in The Delta Force (which Golan also directed and co-wrote); Tobe Hooper's Invaders From Mars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2; John Frankenheimer's slick Elmore Leonard adaptation 52 Pick-Up; Julie Andrews expiring gracefully on her way to a Golden Globe nomination in Andrei Konchalovsky's Duet for One; Golan regular Charles Bronson laying down Murphy's Law; Placido Domingo going full throttle in Zeffirelli's Otello — alongside a stack of lesser titles which quickly tumbled into an evidently permanent obscurity.
Permanent and, in most cases, deserved. Golan would probably be the first to admit that the quality control at his Cannon Films operation was erratic at best. He'd also likely concede that, despite amassing more than three dozen writing/directing credits (including 1977's Oscar-nominated Operation Thunderbolt), his real creativity lay in producing. He took profits from zeitgeist-surfing, thick-ear outings for Jean-Claude Van Damme (Bloodsport), Stallone (Over the Top), Chuck Norris (Missing in Action), and helped fund dicier ventures like John Cassavetes' Love Streams, Robert Altman's Fool for Love, Fred Schepisi's A Cry in the Dark, Jean-Luc Godard's King Lear, Konchalovsky's Runaway Train and Barbet Schroeder's Barfly — many of which endure, and continue to exert influence.
Golan was simultaneously old-school — having learned his penny-pinching craft at the feet of the master, Roger Corman — and far ahead of his time. His great unrealized dream was a big-screen Spider-Man series, which he very nearly brought to fruition in the late 1980s; with Masters of the Universe he pioneered the idea of films based on kids' action figures. He must have surveyed the box-office charts of the current decade — Transformers sequels here, Spider-Man reboots there — with wry, world-weary bemusement.