Friday 19 August 2011

If Any One Can, Cannon Can

Of all the Seventies TV detectives, my favourite show is probably the one I last saw the longest ago. I was rarely able to get past the answerphone intro to The Rockford Files (the concept of the answerphone being so cool, you didn't need to see the rest of the show), and Kojak, well, for all Telly Savalas' awesome mana-charisma, it was just a bit too pedestrianly-paced for us under-tens. Fortunately, we had the action-packed Cannon to compensate.

Frank Cannon was the original fat, middle-aged gazelle. Combining the acceleration of Usain Bolt with the staying power of Paula Radcliffe, no athletic young hood could expect to escape his clutches for long. Undoubtedly the inspiration for The Bill's beer-bellied cheetah DC Tosh Lines, the Los Angeles private detective has suffered from the fickleness of fate, (or rather fickleness of licensing rights) and been away from our TV screens long enough to fade into the barest fringes of collective memory.

A shame.


David K Wayne said...

Between Orson Welles & Morgan Freeman, he was an 'authoritative voiceover' king too. I just remember finding it hilarious that a tough cop was so fat. I was too innocent to realise that was quite normal for his profession:

Never grasped the brilliance of Rockford Files til many years later though. You can't go wrong with James Garner. I'd watch him in any old shit.

Phil Knight said...

I think another thing about The Rockford Files was that the mental ARP synthesiser theme tune (like The Isley Brothers jollying up the Doctor Who theme) suggested a deluge of bouncy fun that the actually rather cerebral show couldn't match.

Never liked James Garner at all tbh, but I think I might be inclined to give him another chance.

David K Wayne said...

I thought the theme was bit more Devo-meets-Kenny Rogers. It was very well-written though, even if it did have every single P.I. cliche in every episode.

There's a great film with him and Jack Lemmon as ex-presidents lost out in the sticks. Actually, it's terrible - it's only great because it's James Garner and Jack Lemmon. Almost as much of a dream team as Jack and Walter Matthau (Grumpy Old Men being their last masterpiece!).

Telly Savalas is up there with Peter Falk. Remember being very disturbed watching cool ol' Kojak play very creepy psychos in various 60s films. Not least cos he was bloody good at it.

Phil Knight said...

I always saw it as a bonus when someone like Telly appeared in a real film, kind of like getting two-for-the-price of one: You got Kelly's Heroes plus Kojak.

I guess half the appeal of people like Garner, Savalas, Matthau etc. is that they were essentially playing themselves - it was a direct charisma transfer.

I thought Lee Marvin was the ultimate example of this - he just seemed to wander through his films on the way to the nearest bar.

David K Wayne said...

Well Lee Marvin could be one of my favourite actors ever. Although his easy charisma made it look like he was just strolling through after a whiskey, he was actually very precise and co-ordinated in everything he did. I saw this John Boorman doc on him, where he talked about how much input he had in everything - cutting dialogue to replace it with subtle gestures and expressions to make the character more 'alive', or influencing the camera movement and editing with his movements (Point Blank's gotta be a top tenner, IMO). He was one of the great physical actors for this - watch him play a bar-room brawl and he carefully choreographs himself like Buster Keaton. Like James Cagney or Marlon Brando, he always had a wonderful way of dying too. He reminds me of something Brian Wilson said, about real genius being hard work made to look very easy. You could say similar about Walter Matthau - another great actor who freaked me out playing villains. He was so good at it, but could still be loveable in lighter stuff.

Phil Knight said...

Yeah, I'm a big Lee Marvin fan too. I particularly like the fact that when he went out on a bender, he kept a map showing where he lived in his pocket, in case anyone found him lying in the street.

Robert Blake is another one. "Electra Glide In Blue" is probably my favourite film, naff bike chases and all. A terrible person in real life, of course, but no-one did bewildered resentment better.

Greyhoos said...

I suppose this goes without saying, but part of the appeal of some of these series had to do with a certain (passing) flavor of the times. There was a sort of de-glamorization afoot when it came to police & detective subjects, and with that seemed to come (by implied extension) a bit a demystification as well. (Was big in films, too -- everything from Charley Varrick to Altman's The Long Goodbye.) Can't help but think that some of these actors welcomed that shift -- being able to loosen their ties, if not take them off altogether.

Greyhoos said...

And I suppose I mean to type de-mythification, not "myst."

David K Wayne said...

Yeah, everyone goes on about Pacino, Nicholson etc., but the less-than-glamorous actors got some plum roles and oscars in the 70s. It was a good time to look like a gnarled working stiff, or flustered aging putz. Probably the last time, as nearly all leads are played by 30somentings who look like teenagers now (this is particularly severe for actresses). It's all about RE-mystification - older actors just botoxed out any facial expression.

RE: Robert Blake. Why is 'Barretta' so forgotten now? He was THE hip late 70s detective. I dimly remember it as TV's answer to 'Serpico'.

Greyhoos said...

At some point, glamor came back, swinging with a vengeance.

Bruce Dern, Elliot Gould, Donald Sutherland -- U.S. cinema, for a time, sported a lot of actors whose careers didn't fully survive the decade as far as being "lead" material was concerned. It was like there was a passing preference for faces or actors that exhibited "character" over traditional charisma. And it c/b argued that Nicholson's partly in that camp...not a particularly "handsome" guy by most people's guidelines.

(Faye Dunaway was an interesting exception. In some films, it was clear that she'd been cast -- and photographed -- in a particular way because her face had a certain "golden age of Hollywood" look. [ Meaning that it's ironic that here choosing to play Joan Crawford proved to be something of a career-killer.] )

But the above also tied into a certain kind of shabby verité that was in vogue for a time. Like a critic recently observed about the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3: In the original, much of the cast looked and spoke like people you might've sat beside on the NYC subway, all the way up to the leads -- but that's definitely wasn't the case with the remake.

Phil Knight said...

I think Warren Oates was the ultimate unlikely leading man - he looked like the School Of Hard Knocks had given him a particularly severe beating. Best actor of the lot imho.

Then again, the golden age of Hollywood had some idiosyncratic leading men - Bogie, Clark Gable, James Cagney - at another pessimistic time in US history.

Greyhoos said...

Now that you mention it...point well taken, Phil.

David K Wayne said...

Dunaway was great - but ended up typecast as a camp harridan by the 80s, like so many great actresses of her generation. Golden age actresses were usually much older before they got to that stage. They had some idiosyncratic looks too, the more blandly pretty ones are largely forgotten. But even a 70s superstar like Barbara Streisand wouldn't get a look-in nowadays.

Jack Nicholson had the rough 'blue collar' look, but he was still considered a sex symbol by female fans. Ryan O'Neal was relative 'glamour boy' but wasn't taken that seriously. Interesting how a 70s 2nd stringer like Richard Gere wasn't in vogue until the 80s. Arguably more for his poses in movie posters than actual performances.

As for Oates - he was an even more convincing Wild Buncher than Ernest 'pretty boy' Borgnine! He was great.

David K Wayne said...

The punchline is a baby that unexpectedly looks like George Kennedy, but I couldn't find the image.