Menahem Golan, the colorful Israeli filmmaker who began his prolific B-movie career with Roger Corman, introduced audiences to Jean-Claude Van Damme and during his 1980s heyday directed action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris, died on Friday in Jaffa, Israel. He was 85.
His family announced his death. No cause was given.
Mr. Golan’s best-known films as producer, director or both included “The Delta Force” (1986), in which terrorists go up against elite commandos including Mr. Norris and Lee Marvin; “Over the Top” (1987), starring Mr. Stallone as an arm wrestler; and the four “Death Wish” sequels, with Charles Bronson.
Mr. Golan produced more than 200 films, directed more than 40 and wrote almost as many (often under the name Joseph Goldman), including works as serious as a 2002 production of “Crime and Punishment,” with John Hurt and Vanessa Redgrave, and as exploitative as “The Versace Murder” (1998), filmed less than four months after the fashion designer Gianni Versace’s death. An article in The New York Times described one of Mr. Golan’s contributions to that movie asstanding behind the camera throwing fake blood on the actor playing the killer.
To say that Mr. Golan discovered Mr. Van Damme, when he was a Belgian kickboxer who had appeared only in tiny parts in a handful of films, is to give Mr. Van Damme too little credit. As he has told the story, he spotted Mr. Golan outside a restaurant in Beverly Hills, Calif., and leapt into action, executing a karate kick above the filmmaker’s head. Mr. Golan promptly gave him his first starring role, in “Bloodsport” (1988), about a potentially deadly martial arts tournament. Mr. Van Damme was paid $25,000, and the film earned almost $12 million in the United States alone.
At the annual Cannes Film Festival in France, Mr. Golan became a celebrity. Working with Yoram Globus, his cousin and business partner in Cannon Films, he promoted his high-minded films and his less lofty action titles with equal fervor. Perhaps the oddest deal he made at the festival was an agreement with Jean-Luc Godard, said to have been signed on a napkin at a hotel bar, to direct a version of “King Lear.” The cast of that film, which when released in 1987 ended up being a science-fiction comedy about post-Chernobyl culture, included Norman Mailer, Woody Allen and the director Peter Sellars. In 1990, when the mayor of Cannes proposed giving Mr. Golan key to the city, Mr. Golan said, “Why not just give me the piece of the Croisette that I already own with all the money I’ve spent here?”
Mr. Golan was born Menahem Globus on May 31, 1929, in Tiberias, a city on the Sea of Galilee, in what was then Palestine and is now Israel.
He served as a pilot and bombardier in the Israeli war of independence; in 1948, when the state of Israel was established, he changed his surname to Golan. He studied drama in London and in the United States and worked in theater before landing his first film job, as a production assistant on Mr. Corman’s “The Young Racers” (1963), a racecar drama starring Mark Damon.
That same year Mr. Golan directed his first movie, “El Dorado,” a crime story set in Israel. The next year he produced his first, “Sallah Shabati,” a satire about Israeli immigration and non-European Jews. Both films starred Topol.
Mr. Golan directed and helped write “Mivtsa Yonatan” (“Operation Thunderbolt”), about the 1976 Israeli raid on Entebbe, Uganda, which was nominated for a 1978 Oscar as best foreign-language film.
But Mr. Golan had not forgotten his lessons from Mr. Corman. Besides prestige projects like “A Cry in the Dark” (1988), with Meryl Streep, and “I’m Almost Not Crazy,” a 1984 documentary about the actor and director John Cassavetes, Mr. Golan and his company churned out movies about ninjas, cyborgs, chain saws and the likes of “Teenage Bonnie and Klepto Clyde” (1993).
His final production was “Rak Klavim Ratzim Hofshi” (“Only Dogs Run Free,” 2007), a low-budget drama filmed in Israel, and his final directing and writing credit was “Marriage Agreement” (2008), a comedy. A documentary, “The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films,” is scheduled for the fall.
Mr. Golan, who lived in Jaffa and whose survivors include his wife and three children, sometimes defended his artistic choices. When he was filming “Mack the Knife,” an earthy 1989 version of “The Threepenny Opera” in which 19th-century characters carry semiautomatic weapons, he told The New York Times: “Believe it or not, in Berlin they’ve done a punk version. People are doing it with green in their hair.”
In the same article, David Toguri, the film’s choreographer, said: “The purists won’t like it, but it works. It’s made for cinema, and Menahem Golan is a real cinema man.”
Menahem Golan (Hebrew: מנחם גולן; May 31, 1929 – August 8, 2014) was an Israeli director and producer. He produced movies for such stars as Sean Connery, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, andCharles Bronson, and was known for a period as a producer of comic book-style movies like Masters of the Universe,Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Captain America, and his aborted attempt to bring Spider-Man to the silver screen. Using the pen name of Joseph Goldman, Golan also wrote and "polished" film scripts. He was co-owner of Golan-Globus with his cousin Yoram Globus. Golan produced about 200 films, directed 44, won 8 times the Violin David Awards and The Israel Prize in Cinema.
Menahem Golan was born on May 31, 1929, in Tiberias, then Mandate Palestine. He studied directing at the Old Vic School and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and filmmaking at New York University. During the Israeli War of Independence he served as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force.
Directing and film career
Golan started out as an apprentice at Habima Theater in Tel Aviv. After completing his studies in theater direction, he staged plays in Israel. He gained experience as a filmmaker by working as an assistant to Roger Corman.
As a director, Golan is probably most known for his film Operation Thunderbolt (Mivtsa Yonatan, 1977), about the Israeli raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda. He also produced the film Eskimo Limon (Lemon Popsicle, 1978), spawning many sequels and an American remake named The Last American Virgin.
In 1979, he did an adaptation of an Isaac Bashevis Singer novel entitled The Magician of Lublin. Golan was responsible for the musical The Apple (1980), an unusual moral fable with a rock-disco soundtrack which appears on a number of lists of all-time-worst movies, but has developed a following as a cult film.
Golan's production company, The Cannon Group, produced a long line of films during the 1980s and early 1990s, such as Delta Force, Runaway Train, and some of the Death Wish sequels. In 1986, Cannon was taken over by Pathe Communications. Golan produced several comic book-style movies in the latter half of the 1980s, perhaps most notably Masters of the Universe, based on the toys of the same name and inspired by the comics work of Jack Kirby. In 1987, Cannon gained infamy after their U.K.-based production of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace failed in theaters and provoked a negative backlash from fans. In 1989 Golan resigned from Cannon, and by 1993 it had folded. Immediately following Cannon's collapse, Golan became head of 21st Century Film Corporation and produced several medium-budget films.
Golan was hoping to film Spider-Man in 1986 at Cannon studios in United Kingdom, and shoot the exteriors in Tel-Aviv, Israel. Dolph Lundgren was envisioned as theGreen Goblin and Spider-Man creator Stan Lee was approached to cameo as J. Jonah Jameson. Golan struggled for years to produce the Marvel Comicscharacter, but failed after 21st Century Film Corporation went bankrupt and folded in 1996 (along with Carolco Pictures, another production company that had agreed to help Golan finance the film). Sony Pictures eventually got the Spider-Man rights and produced the first film in 2002. In 2002 he released his adaptation ofCrime and Punishment.
Golan was married and had three children.
Golan died while visiting Jaffa, Tel Aviv with family members in the early hours of August 8, 2014. Ambulances immediately rushed to the scene, and following attempts to resuscitate him, paramedics pronounced him dead. He was 85 years old.
Filmography as director
- El Dorado (1963)
- Shemona B'Ekevot Ahat (1964)
- Dalia Vehamalahim (1964)
- Fortuna (1966)
- Einer spielt falsch (1966)
- 999 Aliza: The Policeman (1967)
- Tevye and His Seven Daughters (1968)
- What's Good for the Goose (1969)
- Margo Sheli (1969)
- Lupo! (1970)
- Attack at Dawn (1970)
- Malkat Hakvish (1971)
- Katz V'Carasso (1971)
- Shod Hatelephonim Hagadol (1972)
- Escape to the Sun (1972)
- Kazablan (1974)
- Lepke (1975)
- Diamonds (1975)
- Operation Thunderbolt (1977)
- The Uranium Conspiracy (1978)
- The Magician of Lublin (1979)
- The Apple (1980)
- Enter the Ninja (1981)
- Over the Brooklyn Bridge (1984)
- The Delta Force (1986)
- Over the Top (1987)
- Hanna's War (1988)
- Mack the Knife (1989)
- Zebrácká opera (1991)
- Hit the Dutchman (1992)
- Silent Victim (1993)
- Deadly Heroes (1993)
- Superbrain (1995)
- Russian Roulette - Moscow 95 (1995)
- Die Tunnelgangster von Berlin (1996)
- 1998 Lima: Breaking the Silence (1998)
- Armstrong (1998)
- The Versace Murder (1998)
- Death Game (2001)
- Crime and Punishment (2002)
- Open Heart (2002)
- Final Combat (2003)
- Days of Love (2005)
- A Dangerous Dance (2007)
- Marriage Agreement (2008)
Awards and commemoration
- 1978: Nomination for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film Operation Thunderbolt
- 1984: Nomination for Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture Cannonball Run
- 1987: Nomination for Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture Tough Guys don't dance
- 1988: Nomination for Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture Cobra
- In 1999, Golan was awarded the Israel Prize for his contribution to cinema.
- In 1994 Golan was awarded the Ophir Prize of the Israeli Film Academy for his Lifetime Achievement.
- The movie theater in the Azrieli building in Tel Aviv, Israel bore the name of the Golan-Globus company. It was closed in 2008.