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Jewish Journal

Menahem Golan, Veteran Israeli Film Producer, dies at 85

by Naomi Pfefferman

August 13, 2014 | 9:50 am

Menahem Golan, a pioneer of Israeli cinema who made a splash in Hollywood with B-movie action flicks in the 1980s, died on Aug. 8.  He was 85.

The producer and director was on an evening stroll with relatives when he collapsed not far from his home in Jaffa and died despite paramedics’ repeated attempts to revive him, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Just 2 1/2 months before his death, the frail Golan turned out at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of Hilla Medalia’s “The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films,” a documentary about the legendary, if lowbrow, company that Golan founded with his cousin, Yoram Globus, in 1980s Tinseltown.

“Golan barely made it to the podium to take a bow,” Ella Taylor wrote in the Journal of the producer’s July appearance at the Jerusalem International Film Festival. “Once there, the famously brash filmmaker wound his arm around Medalia and pronounced her “the best director in the world — after me.”

Born Menahem Globus to Polish immigrants in Tiberias in 1929, the colorful producer went on to serve as a fighter pilot in the 1948 Israel War of Independence, when he changed his surname to the Hebrew “Golan.”

After studying filmmaking at New York University, he cut his cinematic teeth working for American cult movie icon Roger Corman, whose quick-and-cheap mode of production influenced Golan’s own future sets.

Upon returning to the Jewish state in the early 1960s, Golan, along with Globus, helped put the fledgling Israeli film industry on the map with the comedy “Sallah Shabati” (1964), the first Israeli film to be nominated for an Academy Award (Taylor called the movie “buoyantly cheesy”). Oscar nods followed for “I Love You Rosa” (1972) and “Operation Thunderbolt” (1977), about the 1976 Israeli raid on Entebbe, which Golan also directed. A year later, another Golan and Globus film, “Lemon Popsicle,” became a global cult hit, reportedly helping spur the duo to try their luck in Hollywood.

They purchased the then-struggling Cannon Group, including Cannon Films, which became “synonymous with its cheap-but-brash style, leading to the pair being dubbed “the Go-Go boys,” according to The Guardian. A string of exploitation flicks followed — including “The Delta Force” and several of the “Death Wish” sequels — some featuring stars such as Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. The Hollywood Reporter once dubbed Golan and Globus “nonpareil shlockmeisters.”

Cannon was more successful with its B-movies than it was with its attempt at art-house fare, including John Cassavetes’ “Love Streams” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “King Lear.” And, by the early 1990s, the company was failing, prompting Golan — who had a famous falling-out with Globus (eventually healed) — to move back to Israel, where he resumed making Israeli movies and directed theater.

In the aftermath of his death, not just one but two documentaries will recall the ups and downs of his career: “The Go-Go Boys” and “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.”

Golan is survived by his wife and three children. 

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