APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 26: Electric Dreams (1984)

Steve Barron directed some of the most famous videos like “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits, “Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant, “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League, “Africa” by Toto and “Take On Me” by A-ha. This was his first film, which was written by Rusty Lemorande, who also was behind Captain EO, Cannon’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and the Patsy Kensit and and Julian Sands-starring The Turn of the Screw.

Barron often shared his music videos with his mother Zelda. Now, that isn’t him being a mama’s boy. She was at the time doing continuity on Yentl with Lemorande — she also directed the movie Shag and Culture Club’s* videos for “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” “Miss Me Blind,” “The Medal Song” and “It’s a Miracle” — and showed showed him a video that Barron made for Haysi Fantayzee, which led to this movie.

The film is very much an extended music video and has lots of artists of the era, such as YB40, Jeff Lynne, Phil Collins, Heaven 17 and, most importantly, Giorgio Moroder, who was hired as the composer.

Barron would later say, “(Mordoer) played me a demo track he thought would be good for the movie. It was the tune of “Together in Electric Dreams” but with some temporary lyrics sung by someone who sounded like a cheesy version of Neil Diamond. Giorgio was insisting the song could be a hit so I thought I’d suggest someone to sing who would be as far from a cheesy Neil Diamond as one could possibly go. Phil Oakey**. We then got Phil in who wrote some new lyrics on the back of a (cigarette) packet on the way to the recording studio and did two takes which Giorgio was well pleased with and everybody went home happy.”

Miles Harding (Lenny Von Dohlen, Harold Smith on Twin Peaks) is an architect who wants to build earthquake-proof building, which is why he buys a computer to help him and goes overboard, buying everything he can to allow it to run his house. However, he screws up his own name and it calls him Moles. As the computer downlaods more information and it starts to overheat. Miles pours champagne on it, which is not how to fix a computer and it becomes self-aware, gains the voice of Bud Cort (Barron didn’t want Cort to be seen by the other actors so he did his lines in a padded box on a sound stage) and the name Edgar.

Miles and Edgar are both in love with neighbor Madeline Robistat (Virginia Madsen), with Edgar even playing cello along with her in a duet, a performance that Miles takes credit for. He even asks the computer to write a song for Madeline, but that takes things too far and soon man fights machine.

Yet don’t take this to be a horror movie. It ends up being quite sweet at the end and is a cute romance. You can even see Moroder show up as a record producer. This movie has one of my favorite movie things in it: computers that at once look dated and yet do more than they can today.

*Harold and Maude fan Boy George visited the set of this movie just to meet Bud Cort. George also helped compose the song “Electric Dreams” and contributed his band’s songs “Karma Chameleon,” “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” “Love Is Love” and “The Dream” to the soundtrack.

**The Human League’s singer.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 26: The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Die Unendliche Geschichte — based on the 1979 novel The Neverending Story by Michael Ende — was, at the time of its production, was the most expensive film produced outside the United States or the Soviet Union.

Ende was happy about his book being turned into a film and worked with director Wolfgang Petersen as a script advisor. He was paid $50,000 for the rights to his book and at the end of the day, he was upset that Petersen rewrote the script without consulting him and he demand that the production either be stopped or the film’s title be changed. He sued and list and called the movie “gigantic melodrama of kitsch, commerce, plush and plastic.”

Guess all those 80s kids were idiots, huh?

Bastian Bux is me at ten. He doesn’t want anything to do with anyone, he’s bullied and all he cares about books. One day, while hiding inside a book store, he’s warned about The Neverending Story by the owner, Carl Conrad Coreander. It’s not a safe book. Yet he steals it and runs.

Inside the book, Fantasia is being eaten alive by “The Nothing” while The Childlike Empress (Tami Stronach) grows ill. Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) is trying to cure her, using the Auryn medal to protect himself from the forces of evil. Well, those forces cause his horse Artax to be lost in the swamp in a scene that scars children for the rest of their lives.

Luckily, he’s saved by the Falkor, a furry dragon of sorts and Atreyu learns from the Southern Oracle that there’s one way to save the Empress: find a human child who lives beyond the boundaries of Fantasia to give her a new name. Someone like Bastian.

And, it turns out, the viewers, who are all part of The NeverEnding Story itself. Also, seeing as how Bastian names The Childish Empress Moonchild at the end, is this also an Aleister Crowley-related movie?

Petersen also directed Das BootEnemy MineIn the Line of FireAir Force One, The Perfect Storm, Troy and Poseidon. That’s what we call a solid career.

In Germany, this movie sounds a lot different as it has an orchestral score by Klaus Doldinger of the German jazz group Passport. However, the English language version has a theme song composed by Giorgio Moroder, with lyrics by Keith Forsey and a performance by Christopher “Limahl” Hamill, a former lead singer of Kajagoogoo, and Beth Anderson. It was a big deal — it peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. But along with the techno-pop additions to the soundtrack, none of this plays in the German version.

ARROW BLU RAY RELEASE: The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

Alexander Fu Sheng was another in the line of martial arts actors who could have been the next Bruce Lee, yet he died unexpectedly in a car accident during the making of this movie.

Fight-choreographer-turned -director Lau Kar-leung (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Legendary Weapons of ChinaChallenge of the Masters) remade this film — based on the legendary Yang dynasty — as a tribute to the star and an attempt to make the most action-packed film possible.

As this was one of Shaw Brothers’ final all-star martial arts epics before they ceased filmmaking altogether, The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter may be recognized as Lau’s masterpiece, yet he made so many, it can be hard to select just one.

The Yang family patriarch and all of his children — except for Yeung Dak (Gordon Liu), Yeung Chiu (Fu Sheng) and Yeung Kei (Kara Hui) — have been murdered. Yeung Dak has given up the ways of violence and is studying at a monastery. When he learns that his sister has been taken by the same people who murdered his father, he must renounce the Buddhist way of life, taking notice once more of the physical world, and use the spear training to invent the 8 Diagram Pole Fighting style, which he can still practice inside the walls of the holy place.

If you value your teeth, this may be a tough watch. I’ve never seen more molars and incisors knocked out in a movie than this one. It’s awesome, however, with stylish fights and big drama. It’s sad that Fu Sheng is gone and would not be the hero of this film, but Gordon Liu has that certain something, an intangible quality that makes you notice him and say, “This is a star.”

The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter has a brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative by Arrow Films with the original lossless Cantonese, Mandarin and English mono audio as well as optional English subtitles and hard-of-hearing subtitles for the English dub. It also has brand new commentary by Jonathan Clements, author of A Brief History of China; a newly filmed appreciation by film critic and historian Tony Rayns; interviews with Gordon Liu, Lily Li and Yeung Ching-ching; A Tribute to Fu Sheng, a short film commemorating the late actor that played before early screenings of The 8 Diagram Pole FighterThe Invincible Pole Fighters alternate opening; the trailer, an image gallery, a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Aspinall and an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Terrence J. Brady. You can get this from MVD.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 22: A Man Called Rage (1984)

Tonino Ricci — often using the Americanized name Anthony Richmond — was an Italian exploitation director and you know what that means. He jumped genres. From mob films (The Big Family), westerns (Bad Kids of the West) and White Fang ripoff after doing second unit on the original (Zanna Bianca alla riscossa) to sharks (Cave of the SharksNight of the Sharks), horror (Bakterion), post-Conan peplum (Thor il conquistatore), aliens in the Bermuda Triangle (the baffling and wonderful Encounters In the Deep), war (I giorni dell’inferno), sexy romance (Pasión, Storia di arcieri, pugni e occhi neri), Raiders of the Lost Ark remix (I predatori della pietra magica) and a family-friendly dog movie (Buck and the Magic Bracelet), he really did it all. And then he made two post-apocalyptic movies, this one and the mocie that inspired this, Rush.

Working from a script by Jaime Comas Gil (A Fistful of Dollars, the insane Adam and Eve vs. the Cannibals) and Eugenio Benito, this starts with stock footage of modern life that’s soon blown asunder by b-roll and stock footage, signaling that the end times have come and gone*. Soon enough, Rage (Bruno Minniti, who was the hero in just about every Ricci movie from Thor the Conqueror on; he used the name Conrad Nichols in nearly all of them) must lead Werner, Omar and Mara through the Forbidden Zone to get uranium and battle the man he gave a scar — and the name Scar — and an entire army of his motocross soldiers and you know what this is all about? A cryo chamber with a Bible in it. Can Rage and his team take a train across the wasteland and deliver the Good News from Alpha Base to Gamma Base?

They do it all to the jazziest post-nuke boogie you’ve ever heard by Stelvio Cipriani. The rest of the movie may look dingy and a bit boring, but man, that cat can swing.

*One of those nukes is really the Friendship-7 launch, because we can still hear mission control say, “God speed, John Glen.”

You can watch this on YouTube.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 10: Dreamscape (1984)

Based on an outline that Roger Zelazny wrote, his novella “He Who Shapes” and the novel The Dream Master, this wasn’t made with any other input from the author. At least he got paid!

The story is credited to David Loughery, who wrote the fifth Star Trek and I still wonder why God needs a starship. The script is from Chuck Russell, who would go on to make A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and The Blob. Director Joseph Ruben made The Pom Pom GirlsThe StepfatherThe Good Son and Sleeping With the Enemy. He knows how to make entertaining trash and I say that in the kindest of ways.

Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid) might be a psychic, but he doesn’t want tested any more. Not after all the poking and prodding in his youth by Dr. Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow). But when Novotny saves him from some low level goons who want to use Gardner’s psychic powers, he starts listening to how he’s now involved in government-funded psychic research. What really gets Alex on board is one look at Dr. Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw).

The goal is to send people into the dreamscape. There’s some exposition about the Senoi natives of Malaysia thinking that the dream world is as real as our own and you know me, I’m always here for movie BS.

Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly) is the only person who has entered the dreamscape, but he’s a daddy and old lady murdering maniac, so luckily Alex can get in and help little kids get over their bad dreams. Horror novelist Charlie Prince (George Wendt) — who wrote a book called Stab, so is this Scream universe canon? — tells Alex that he’s just a weapon to be used by Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer) to kill the President (Eddie Albert) and preserve the military industrial complex.

Yeah, a lot happens.

The end of this movie is wild. Alex is inside the President’s post-nuclear terror dream, as mutants hunt the President and Tommy Ray has nunchuks and can also be a snake man before Alex takes the form of Tommy’s dad, tells the final boss that he loves him and then the leader of the free world stabs the bad guy from behind, killing him, because even the most hopeful of Presidents still ordered drone strikes. Then our hero goes into Blair’s dream and straight up kills him so he can be with Kate Capshaw.

The second PG-13 movie ever released — after Red Dawn — this is also the second movie that Kate Capshaw would be in in 1984 where a man’s heart is ripped out of his chest.

You know, I love this goofy movie. The effects are dated, there’s fog everywhere and the poster is totally trying to make you think Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s one of the first movies I ever rented and watching it again, it made me so happy knowing that I can just put it on at any time.

MILL CREEK BLU RAY RELEASE: Magnum PI (1980-1988)

Magnum P.I. was a constant in my life through a tumultuous time, starting when I was just 8 and ending when I was 16, seeing me through the most chaotic years of young life. Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV’s (Tom Selleck) adventures in Hawaii were a center, a Thursday night oasis — Wednesday from series 7 onward — that always knew would be there.

Magnum lives in the guest house of an opulent 200-acre beachfront estate known as Robin’s Nest. At some point, he provided services for its owner, world-famous novelist Robin Masters (voiced by Orson Welles for all but the final time when Red Crandell spoke for the character) and he’s been allowed full run of the estate and use of the author’s Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS in exchange for some nebulous security detail. In between, he takes on cases that rarely pay and often put his life in danger.

His archnemisis is Jonathan Quayle Higgins III (John Hillerman). Like Magnum, he’s also ex-army, but he’s by the book while our hero is laid back. He’s in charge of Robin’s estate, patrolling it with his twin Doberman, Zeus and Apollo. The relationship grows and changes as the series progresses, going from antagonistic to near friendship by the close, as well as the suspicion that Higgins is Robin Masters.

Magnum has a near-perfect storytelling engine as it has the perfect setting (all manner of people come to Hawaii for vacation or to escape), the perfect characters (Magnum can be just as much a film noir hero as he can be a military man or a romantic leading man; he’s a comedic figure without losing his coolness) and the perfect job (being a detective is a reliable TV profession for this reason). Add in his friends Theodore “T.C.” Calvin (Roger E. Mosley) — whose Island Hoppers helicopter can take Magnum anywhere — and Orville Wilbur Richard “Rick” Wright (Larry Manetti), whose King Kamehameha Club can be the origin for all manner of intrigue — and you can see why this series ran for so many years.

While T.C. and Rick are former Marines and Magnum is a former Navy SEAL — all served in Vietnam — none of them are shell-shocked zombies. They’re normal human beings who deal with their war experiences in their own way, which was a refreshing change for audiences — especially veterans — when the show started.

Magnum was such a big show that even other big shows crossed over with it, establishing a CBS detective show universe. In the episode “Ki’is Don’t Lie,” Magnum works with Simon & Simon to recover a cursed artifact, a mystery which had its conclusion in their show with the episode “Emeralds Are Not a Girl’s Best Friend.” Yet most famously, in “Novel Connection,” novelist Jessica Fletcher came to Hawaii — along with Jessica Walter and Dorothy Loudon — and then solved the case on her show, Murder, She Wrote, in the episode “Magnum on Ice.”

Speaking of guest stars, all manner of genre favorites appeared on this show, including Jenny Agutter, Talia Balsam, Ernest Borgnine, Candy Clark, Samantha Eggar, Robert Forster, Pat Hingle, Mako, Patrick Macness, Cameron Mitchell, Vic Morrow, John Saxon and many more.

Another reason why this show is so beloved is due to Selleck. He told producers, “I’m tired of playing what I look like.” His suggestion? He remembered having fun with James Garner on The Rockford Files and suggested making Magnum more of blue collar guy. This made him more identifiable with men, not just women.

One of the things that struck me as I caught up on the series was that the theme is different at the start! The original theme was written by Ian Freebairn-Smith and only lasted eleven episodes before being replaced with the iconic Mike Post and Pete Carpenter song that I hum all of the time.

At the end of the seventh season, Magnum died in a shoot out. I can’t even explain how upset everyone was. The letters page in TV Guide was aghast. Imagine if Twitter existed in the late 80s! Luckily, he came back for one shorter season.

Series creator Donald P. Bellisario — who created this show with Glen A. Larson — was born in North Charleroi, PA. I can probably see his house from mine. After fifteen years in advertising, he went to Hollywood, where he worked on the series Black Sheep Squadron and Battlestar Galactica before creating series like Tales of the Golden MonkeyAirwolfQuantum LeapJAG and NCIS. He was joined by writers like Richard Yalem (who made Delirium), Reuben A. Leder (A*P*E*Badlands 2005), Jay Huguely (Jason Goes to Hell), Andrew Schneider (the “Stop Susan Williams” and “Ther Secret Empire” chapters of Cliffhangers!), Stephen A. Miller (My Bloody Valentine), J. Miyoko Hensley (who wrote the Remo Williams: The Prophecy pilot) and even notorious celebrity fixer and detective Anthony Pellicano, as well as directors like David Hemmings (yes, from Deep Red), John Llewellyn Moxey, Jackie Cooper and Robert Loggia, amongst so many others.

The Mill Creek blu ray box set of Magnum P.I. has all 158 episodes of the show, as well as new interviews with composer Mike Post, writer/producer Chris Abbott, author C. Courtney Joyner on the sixty year career of director Virgil Vogel and actress/writer Deborah Pratt (who was the voice of the narrator and Ziggy on Quantum Leap). Plus, you also get two Tom Selleck guest star roles on The Rockford Files, featurettes on The Great 80’s TV Flashback and Inside the Ultimate Crime Crossover (Magnum P.I. and Murder, She Wrote) and audio commentary on three season 8 episodes.

Much like how Magnum was a calming part of my young life, having this set on my shelf during these turbulent times is just as warm of a feeling. Get this set and let the 80s wash over you like the beaches of Waikiki.

You can get this set from Deep Discount.

CANNON MONTH: The Ambassador (1984)

Somehow, Golan and Globus tried to make 52 Pick-Up three times. First time around, they thought Joe Don Baker would be the star — thanks Austin Trunick — then they hired Elmore Leonard to adapt his book. He’s not on the final credits of this movie, but said, “Menahem Golan hired me to adapt my novel, 52 Pick-Up, and set it in Tel Aviv. I wrote two drafts and then told him to get another writer. He did and the result was The Ambassador which has nothing to do with 52 Pick-Up. It has none of my characters, none of my situations, nothing. But he still owed me for the screen rights and had to pay up before he could release the picture.”

Then, two years later, John Frankenheimer made the actual movie of 52 Pick-Up with Leonard and Cannon.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Peter Hacker (Robert Mitchum) and head of security Frank Stevenson (Rock Hudson) — yes, the slam bang action stars of a movie released the same year as The Terminator — are trying to get Jewish people and Muslims to get along and make some peace, but people keep getting killed.

Meanwhile, Peter’s wife Alex (Ellen Burstyn) is hooking up with Mustapha Hashimi (Fabio Testi, given this movie as a mea culpa from Cannon for getting fired from Bolero), which adds some human drama to the politics. Also, blackmail. Also also Donald Pleasence as Israeli Defense Minister Eretz.

J. Lee Thompson was pretty much making movies just for Cannon throughout the 80s with films like 10 to Midnight, The Evil That Men Do, King Solomon’s Mines, Murphy’s LawFirewalker, Death Wish 4: The CrackdownMessenger of Death and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects. Al of those are way better than this movie.

As we discussed in the article on That Championship Season, Mitchum had been accused of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, which is one of the reasons why he made this movie. Telly Savalas was originally going to play Rock Hudson’s role, but after a scheduling conflict, Rock flew out just a week after he broke up with his lover Tom Clarke. He was sick throughout filming, which may have been the start of the disease that he died from, but regardless he clashed with Mitchum throughout the production.

CANNON MONTH: Maria’s Lovers (1984)

One of two Cannon movies shot near my hometown of Pittsburgh* — actually Brownsville, West Brownsville and surrounding Fayette County using locations such as the long gone Fredericktown Ferry, the gorgeous Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in West Brownsville and now closed High Point restaurant in Coal Center — this movie amazes me as Nastassja Kinski and Robert Mitchum once walked the streets where I have tread. And the movie’s premiere was at the Laurel Mall Cinema in Connelsville, a place that was turned into a wrestling building and where I bled and sweat for years.

Today, Maria’s house is a refurbished BnB that I’m absolutely certain that Austin Trunick, author of The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984, will be staying at. And according to this local article, Ms. Kinski coming to our small town had quite the impact, as she presented the Brownsville Elks with the Richard Avedon nude photo of herself with a live python wrapped around her. When she wasn’t lounging at the Uniontown Holiday Inn with her chihuahua Paco like an old fashioned movie star, there was a rumor that she had an affair with a local miner, which I’d like to believe is true.

As for Mitchum, he stayed drunk — surprise — throughout most of the movie, stumbling through the streets of Brownsville — allegedly — clutching a bottle of tequila and shouting, “Does anybody know we’re making a pornographic movie in your town?” I must confess that I would put my acid reflux to the test just for the opportunity to get blackout drunk with Mitchum.

While born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Mitchum would tell Roger Ebert in 1971 interview while making Going Home, when asked how long he’d been in Pittsburgh, the great actor said, “I was born here and I intend to make it my home long after U.S. Steel has died and been forgotten. I intend to remain after steel itself has been forgotten. I shall remain, here on the banks of the Yakahoopee River, a grayed eminence…I used to come through here during the Depression. I don’t think the place has ever really and truly recovered.” The whole article is great, as Mitchum faces the realities of just how hard it is to drive and get directions in our City of Bridges.

Reports also say that he had ladies young and old line up for several blocks just for a hug or a kiss and man, Hollywood was once amazing, right?

The first Western movie by Andrei Konchalovsky — and potentially the first movie made by a Russian director with major American actors — this is the story of Ivan Bibic (John Savage, who is also the Beast in Cannon’s take on Beauty and the Beast as well as being in another Western PA after the war movie The Deer Hunter**) and how his time in the war has destroyed him. His father (Mitchum) sets him up with a neighbor, Mrs. Wynic (Anita Morris) instead of allowing him to be back with Maria (Kinski), a woman now married to Al Griselli (Vincent Spano). Her memory kept him alive in a POW camp, yet still his father believes she’s too good for his son.

The real issue that Ivan has, beyond his PTSD, is that he’s put Maria on an impossible pedestal, seeing her as an unapproachable ideal and a chaste angel of purity when she just wants to experience their relationship as a normal woman with very healthy desires. That means that he can perform with Mrs. Wynic, but not her. She, on the other hand, can find herself finally seduced by Clarence (Keith Carradine) and this infidelity, strangely, may save their relationship.

Menahem Golan said that this movie came about quite simply: “Konchalovskiy was introduced to me at Cannes. He told me a story about a soldier in Yugoslavia who returns home after WWI with shell shock, not able to have sex with his wife. I told him, “Go downstairs, get some coffee and start thinking this way: He is not a Yugoslavian soldier, he is an American soldier, the war is not WWI, it’s Vietnam, and make the story contemporary.” Konchalovskiy would go on to make Runaway TrainShy People and Duet for One for Cannon, but is probably best known for Tango & Cash***, a movie that seems like a long valley between his usual artistic films.

*The other is Rappin’.

**Which wasn’t shot here, but in Ohio (Stuebenville, Struthers, Cleveland) and West Virgina (Weirton) doubling for our region.

***Which really feels like it could have been a Cannon.

CANNON MONTH: Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984)

Kelly “Special K” Bennett (Lucinda Dickey), Orlando “Ozone” Barco (Adolfo Quinones), and Tony “Turbo” Ainley (Michael Chambers) are back, seven months after Breakin’ and while that movie is great, Breakin’ 2 exists in a world that is not our own and we’re all the better for it.

Directed by Sam Firstenberg — who delivered some of Cannon’s best movies including Revenge of the NinjaNinja III: The DominationAmerican Ninja — it’s all about the T.K.O. Crew trying to stop the demolition of the Miracles community center by a developer who wants to build a shopping mall, which is very much 1984.

Made back in the days before the term Boogaloo was co-opted by far-right extremists to describe an uprising against the American government that would be the sequel to the civil war — ironic because, you know, most of these groups are incredibly anti-Semitic and boogaloo was a made-up word from Cannon co-owner Menahem Golan — this is the kind of movie I put on whenever I want to change my mood instantly. It somehow unites the best part of the 80s with what I love about big Hollywood musicals and is only concerned with entertaining you as much as it can.

For example, the dance number where Michael Chambers walks on the ceiling was Golan’s idea. A big Fred Astaire fan, he suggested the scene which was inspired by The Royal Wedding. It was made with the same gimbal — a rotating room — from A Nightmare on Elm Street. As a thank you, a picture of Freddy’s glove is hanging on the wall.

Ice-T returns to rap before the end of the movie, there’s a dance number in a hospital that brings a dead patient back to life and every single person in this movie somehow knows how to dance. And it’s great. It’s the kind of world that I wish we lived in, a place where music and dance can save anything and anyone.

This is top tier Cannon. You can watch it on Tubi.

For more info on both Breakin’ movies, get Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.

CANNON MONTH: Missing In Action (1984)

Once upon a time, the story goes that James Cameron wrote a treatment for Rambo: First Blood Part II and everyone in Hollywood wanted to make it. The people that wanted to make it the most were our beloved friends at Cannon, who somehow rushed this out two months before Stallone’s character returned to rescue the POWs still left behind.

Cannon may have not been at the level of working with a star of Stallone’s calibre — and pricetag — as of yet, but they would be.

As for star Chuck Norris, he was approached to make the film by Lance Hool and the idea of making a movie that redeemed American soldiers in Vietnam spoke to him, as his brother Wieland died during the conflict. “Vietnam was a tragic mistake. If you don’t want to win the battle, don’t get involved,” said Norris.

Hool and Norris took the project to Cannon Films, who liked the project, and seeing as how they already had a similar script in development, they signed Norris to be in not one, but two movies. Except that the movie intended to be the first movie, the Hool-directed version, ended up being the prequel, released under the confusing title of Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.

But man, talk about stacking the deck. The film that was the sequel that became the first movie — welcome to the world of Cannon — was directed by Joseph Zito, who mastered the slasher genre between The Prowler and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter before making this as well as the perhaps even better — or wilder — Invasion U.S.A. and Red Scorpion.

This movie is everything Cannon in one film, outside of hiring someone like John Cassavetes to direct it or Norman Mailer to write it.

Colonel James Braddock (Norris) is a US military officer who spent seven long years in a North Vietnamese POW camp — if you want to see that, watch Missing in Action 2: The Beginning — a place that he somehow escaped a decade ago. Against the objections of Senator Maxwell Porter, he joins a government team that has come to meet Vietnamese officials in Ho Chi Minh City about the existence of still-living American POWs.

I love that Braddock has no time for the normal action hero cliches of romance. When he’s invited by Ann Fitzgerald (Lenore Kasdorf, Amityville Dollhouse) up to her room for a nightcap, she feigns mock indignation as he strips down, thinking that she’s about to get some of that sweet Chuck Norris karate directly below her belt. She turns and sees him dressed in full black commando gear, ready to climb out her window and start doing some work.

In order to get the dirt he needs on General Vinh (Ernie Ortega) and General Tran (James Hong, always a welcome actor in any movie), he must go into Thailand and recruit his old buddy Jack “Tuck” Tucker (M. Emmet Walsh), who has become the king of the black market. Then, Chuck does what Chuck does, including blowing up more of the Phillippines than ten other movies shot there and the famous moment when Chuck rises from the water holding a M60 machine gun and blowing gigantic holes in nearly everyone.

“One of the biggest thrills of my life came when I went to a theatre to see Missing in Action, and all the people stood up and applauded at the end. That’s when my character brings some POWs he’s just rescued to a conference in Saigon, where the politicians are saying there aren’t any more prisoners of war,” said Chuck. And you know, more than thirty years later, as I watch this movie on my couch, I shouted in pure joy out loud and I’m pretty much so left wing that I’ve become right and then left again.

Such is the magic that is Chuck Norris.

You can learn more about all of the Missing In Action movies in Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.

You can listen to The Cannon Canon podcast about this movie here.