August 11, 2014, - 9:27 am
Menahem Golan: Legendary Israeli Producer Dies – Maker of Delta Force, Death Wish Sequels, Exposed Islamic Terrorism
Out of law school and in the midst of my MBA studies, I went to Los Angeles for a job interview with Cannon Films, the movie studio founded by Menahem Golan (also spelled, “Menachem Golan”), who died Friday at 85. He’d already left the company and would soon return to his native Israel, where he served as a fighter pilot in the War of Independence. But Golan’s contributions to the movie world are legendary, if often unfairly panned by mainstream (translation: liberal) movie critics.
My favorite Golan movies truthfully depict what we face from Islamic terrorists, and Cannon Films–a partnership between Golan and his cousin, Yoram Globus (also spelled, “Yehoram Globus”)–was a pioneer in that respect. In my top two Golan movies, I put 1977’s “Operation Thunderbolt” a/k/a “Mivtsa Yonatan,” a Hebrew-language film telling the story of the Islamic hijacking of a plane full of Israelis and Jews and the successful July 4, 1976 raid on the Entebbe, Uganda airport, in which most of the passengers were rescued (and in which Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s brother, Yoni (or “Jonathan”), heroically gave his life to save them).
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I also put “The Delta Force” up there. As I’ve noted on this site several times, the movie was unfairly maligned by movie critics as a schlocky, cheesy action film. But, in fact, the beginning of it accurately depicts how Hezbollah Islamic terrorists hijacked TWA flight 847 and brutally tortured to death Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem. And I’d choose the movie–which I re-watched recently–over most of the new movies I’ve seen in theaters, this year or last (or the years before those). The same goes for a lot of Cannon films written, directed, and/or produced by Golan, who was prolific in the hundreds of films he made, pioneering both Israeli cinema and transforming the American moviegoing experience.
If you look at Golan’s hundreds of movie credits, it includes many movies, including all of the “Death Wish” sequels, the “Missing in Action” films, and the two “Breakin'” movies (“Breakin'” and “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” which I often joke that I’ve never seen, but actually I have, cheesy as it was). And the “Breakin'” movies, though panned by critics (and the second one really stank; the first was fun empty calories) were indicative of Golan. He was able to spot American trends–like breakdancing–and quickly seize on them for movies. The beginning of the first “Breakin’,” which came out in 1984, includes a street breakdancing scene in which an unknown extra, named Jean-Claude Van Damme, is at the front of the crowd of spectators, dancing and clapping. Van Damme went on to be one of the central action figures in Golan’s Cannon films, along with Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, and Charles Bronson. Golan was able to spot and fuel the action star theme of many ’80s movies using these stars and make movies cheaply. And he was able to create stars like Van Damme, who enjoyed a long action career because of Golan’s sixth sense in plucking the guy out of nowhere.
In many ways, Golan was ahead of his time. He saw that superhero franchises were the wave of the future in movies and nearly snagged the right to make the Spiderman films. He made a “Captain America” movie, as well as “Superman IV,” also heavily panned. And although the best known movies produced by the Golan-Globus team were these trend-aware ’80s films, they also made masterpiece films, such as “King Lear.” Almost every major star acted in his films.
Golan was a secular Jew, very secular as the “public viewing” of his body before his funeral would indicate. (Jews do not have such “viewings.”) But he was a proud Israeli and American patriot, not only serving to help establish Israel’s independence, but also showing the world why Israel and America were in the right and warning us of the dangers of Islamic terrorism long before that was fashionable and in movies you’d never see coming out of Hollywood today. His movies had moral messages and stark good versus evil themes. He didn’t make us “sympathize” with Islamic terrorists and criminal thugs, as movies today often do. That’s what the movie critics really hated about him. And what I loved.
Menahem Golan, Zichrono LiVrachah [Of Blessed Memory--what we Jews say instead of Rest In Peace].
Tags: Cannon Films, Golan-Globus, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Menachem Golan, Menahem Golan, Mivtsa Yonatan, Operation Thunderbolt, Yehoram Globus, Yoram Globus