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Friday, May 29, 2009

CANNON: SEASON 2, VOLUME ONE -- DVD review by porfle

If you're old enough to remember when "Cannon" first hit the airwaves, you'll know that Cannon's big schtick was that he was fat. That's right--in a world of bald detectives, old detectives, nerdy detectives, Hawaiian detectives, eccentric millionaire detectives, and even the occasional sexy detectives, Cannon was The Fat Detective. In fact, Sonny and Cher even did a spoof of the show once called "Detective Fat."

William Conrad's deep, booming voice had gained him fame on the radio as Marshall Matt Dillon in "Gunsmoke", but when the show migrated to television, Conrad was deemed--you guessed it--too fat to play the character. So in 1971, CBS finally made it up to Conrad by concocting a character specifically tailored for him. One whose most distinctive characteristic was the fact that he was--drumroll, please--fat. ("Jake and the Fatman", which just came right out and said it right there in the title, would come later.)

But was the show itself "phat"? This new 3-disc DVD set, CANNON: SEASON TWO, VOLUME ONE, provides ample evidence that it was indeed pretty good. Not great, mind you--the production values are a little iffy at times, and the overall look of the show is somewhat low-rent--but definitely not without its charms. The main one of these, of course, being the big guy himself.

William Conrad was an easygoing, engaging screen presence who could elevate a pedestrian script and make the most of whatever character moments he was given. His "Frank Cannon" is a tough but affable ex-cop who "tends toward the gut" (as John Wayne put it in THE COWBOYS) but doesn't let that stop him from being an action-oriented kind of guy. When the need arises, Cannon uses that extra weight to push bad guys around and can level a mean karate chop with those ham hands of his. He's handy with a gun, too, and rest assured there's lots of gunplay in this series. As a card-carrying private dick, he can also spout some of that hardboiled dialgue when needed, as in one scene in which a blue-haired Patrick O'Neal finds him difficult to bribe:

"What is it with you? Why are you so hard to do business with?"
"Maybe because we don't deal in the same coin."

Another element in the show's excitement factor is Cannon's beautiful Lincoln Continental Mark IV, which I like to call "the Fatmobile." Whenever a fleeing suspect is speeding away, Cannon hops into this awesome land-yacht and participates in that holiest of 70s cop-show cliches, the car chase. CANNON has a car chase in just about every other episode, because they can always be counted upon to liven up even the blandest script. One episode has three carloads of baddies chasing Cannon through the Los Angeles River and features some satisfying fender-bending action along the way. In another, we even see him chasing a backhoe in a pickup truck down a dirt road. This guy'll chase anything.

Plotwise, we find the standard procession of guest characters seeking Cannon's help for various reasons. Some are wrongly accused of murder, while others have more unusual needs for his services. The scripts are mostly pretty involving although light on any kind of real, hard-hitting drama. This was one of my dad's favorite shows, and the networks' goal back then was to offer this kind of familiar, easy-to-take programming to older viewers like him who just wanted to kick back with some boob-tube after work and didn't care for all the preachy "relevant" stuff currently being aimed at the young folks. Heck, I can relate to that.

The Quinn-tessential 70s-era Quinn Martin production, CANNON fulfills that requirement very well with the kind of scripts that could've been passed around amongst any number of TV flatfoots with only a few details changed (and probably were). What makes the show unique is the main character himself. William Conrad is supremely relaxed and confident in the role, and seems to enjoy playing it. (If you ever get to see some of the show's bloopers, they'll attest to his funny, lighthearted attitude during filming.) He likes interacting with his guest stars, whether tickling the ivories in a bar for Sheree North or sparring with Marj Dusay in the kitchen over whether or not to add milk to his omelet recipe. A gourmet with discerning tastes, Cannon is often seen whipping up fine cuisine or dining out with the likes of Jessica Walter.

In one episode, he spends so much time at the police station doggedly pouring over mug shots in search of a suspect that he actually has to skip a few meals. When at last he pinpoints the right picture, Cannon frantically grabs the phone away from a detective and delivers an urgent directive: "I need the numbers of all the delicatessens in the area that deliver!"

One of the show's best qualities is that it doesn't always take place in a grungy urban setting or some overused backlot. Cannon may be a variation of the standard gumshoe character, but he likes to get out and enjoy the wide-open spaces once in a while. In "The Predators" (with guest stars Phyllis Thaxter and fanboy heartthrob Pamela Franklin), we're treated to some breathtaking northern California settings. "Stakeout" finds Cannon soaring through the skies in a glider with Belinda Montgomery, while "Sky Above, Death Below" allows him to shoot a few bad guys on a scenic mountaintop. This goes a long way toward making up for the sometimes low-budget look of the show.

Other guest stars of interest include Michael Tolan, Severn Darden, Leslie Charleson, Richard Hatch, Ken Lynch, Lloyd Bochner, Scott Hylands, Jesse Vint, Robert Webber, Mike Farrell, Frank Maxwell, 50s genre icon Kenneth Tobey, Dana Elcar, Charles Cyphers, James A. Watson, Sandy Kenyon, Tracy Reed, George Maharis, Stefanie Powers, Jeanne Bates, Kathleen Freeman, Clue Gulager, Julie Adams, H.M. Wynant, Lois Nettleton, Bert Freed, William Daniels, Linden Chiles, Alex Rocco, Carl Betz, Andrew Duggan, Olan Soule, Katherine Justice, and even former Monkee, Mickey Dolenz.

John Parker's familiar "Cannon" theme leads us into the first twelve episodes of the second season in this set. The pictorial quality is good considering that the show never looked all that great to begin with. The sole bonus feature is an option to view episodes with the original pre-titles teasers, which are simply brief montages of upcoming scenes. If I remember correctly, these were originally a regular part of the show.

CANNON: SEASON TWO, VOLUME ONE isn't quite on par with the best that classic television has to offer, but it's still an above-average and fun example of the 70s detective show. Just the thing for when you feel like gorging on some tasty junk food for the brain.

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