Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wonders...If they shot a Cannon movie, would it be part of the Cannon canon?
Lawman: "I wanted to kill you the other night."
When you're a radio actor and you don't get to play your iconic Western character in the TV version of your show, what do you do? You could put your voice of authority to work as a narrator in series like The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show and The Fugitive. Who knows? You could get your own TV detective show out of it.
It worked for William Conrad, radio's Matt Dillon. After years of mostly voice acting, he went from doing the narration on Quinn Martin's most famous series to starring in Cannon, another QM drama. It comes complete with a signature QM opening narration, but Conrad didn't do that himself.
Cannon ran five years on CBS, starting in 1971. The seasons aren't massive, only 24 episodes apiece, but Paramount is releasing the series in half-season sets.
Facts of the Case
Cannon: Season One, Volume One features the pilot and 11 episodes on four discs:
• "The Salinas Jackpot": Cannon finds himself looking for a glass-eyed man as he tracks two killer clowns who robbed a rodeo. When Cannon's shot while pursuing them, it's no laughing matter. Tom Skerritt guests.
• "Death Chain": When he sees his mistress abducted and she later turns up dead, a banker hires Cannon to prove it's murder. Sorrell Booke guests.
• "Country Blues": A country singer is killed in a plane crash. When Cannon finds a parachute with the cords cut, he suspects murder. Joan Van Ark and Mark Hamill guest.
• "Scream of Silence": Cannon's trying to reach a boy who escaped kidnappers but can't speak because he's in shock, but why is the boy afraid of Cannon?
• "Girl in the Electric Coffin": The Electric Coffin is a rock band, and Cannon's friend was following the band to find the girl. Cannon's trying to find out why his friend was killed. Kim Hunter guests.
• "Dead Pigeon": A cop's found unconscious near the body of a man killed with his gun. Cannon's looking for a lawyer—the crooked one who set his friend up.
• "No Pockets in a Shroud": Cannon's intrigued by "the millionaire hermit" (who isn't Howard Hughes, honest!), so he takes on a missing persons case involving a possible relative of the recluse.
• "Stone, Cold Dead": An overly amorous boater kills a woman in a struggle and dumps her body at sea. When it's found, a Vietnam vet is accused of her murder.
William Conrad didn't get to play the man in the white hat in Gunsmoke, but Frank Cannon comes across like that Western hero transplanted to modern times. The first regular episode even resolves itself with a standoff at a ranch, complete with a subplot about a proud widow and her young son that would have fit nicely into Rawhide or any number of other Westerns. Elsewhere, showdowns take place in the Nevada desert and a ghost town, among other locales that evoke the Western feel. When a Cannon episode stands out, it's the showdown you'll remember.
Of course, William Conrad's weight—widely believed to have cost him the Matt Dillon role—might stick in your mind most, since villains often refer to Cannon as "fat man," and Cannon makes self-deprecating jokes (see "Charge") about weight. He's also shown dining out much more than he's seen at home.
Cannon sticks to the plots instead of concentrating on character, but Conrad has a commanding presence and his Cannon can handle himself well in a fight, taking by surprise anyone who thinks him out of shape. Unlike many a TV detective, though, Cannon shows the strain, puffing after a chase or stretching from a backache after a long day in the car. These gestures are small enough they feel like Conrad ad libbing rather than part of the script, but they add a touch of realism.
Less realistic is Cannon's amazing range of knowledge and abilities. When he gets a phone call, Cannon will know the location because he can hear everything on the other end, down to the bad bearing in a fan next to the phone. He can also reassemble an antique gun and drive an 18-wheeler like a pro.
Cannon came along before the crackdown on TV violence, and you'll note that some episodes have a high body count. Like many a Western, the bad guys can't shoot straight, although they shoot Frank in the arm a lot. But no matter who's hit, the wounds tend to look like paintball splatters.
The picture has a slightly faded look and often has scratches and spots, much as you'd expect for a 1970s detective show. I found myself adjusting the sound a few times because of the show's booming theme and score.
The extras here are "episodic promos." I think they ran before each episode, although they also could have been used in promoting the show. Big deal.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Does Frank Cannon have a life? It's hinted here and there that he must live well—he's a top insurance investigator and he likes Lafitte Rothschild—but you don't see him at home much. Of course, the pilot showed him in a high-rise apartment with a shooting gallery off the living room. Maybe he was evicted.
It's a shame Quinn Martin didn't figure out a way for William Conrad to narrate a Cannon opening, a la The Dead Zone, Burn Notice, or The Saint.
If you have fond memories of Cannon, chances are you'll warm to William Conrad's performance and thrill to those chases again. If you've never seen Cannon before, it's up to you whether chases and a strong lead make up for cliched, sometimes melodramatic storylines.
I found the show getting a little better as it went along, probably because it was starting to show off Conrad's personality more, so even if you're a fan, the next set could be a better buy.
Not guilty, except for that pesky speeding rap.
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