George Pan Cosmatos, Part I

August 17, 2011 | By

'Yo Marion'

Back when I was in high school, I remember walking towards Wellesley subway station after another soundtrack buying binge (Cheapies, of course), and displayed against the side of a bus stop shelter was the poster for Cobra, the latest action ‘drama’ from Sylvester Stallone, bearing the immortal line “Crime is a disease. Meet the cure.”

It looked glossy, chic, and the dominance of red inferred a lot of blood was spilt within the film. Critics reviled the movie as being sadistic, and it garnered a reputation as one of Stallone’s nastier films (even though he does get creative several times in Cliffhanger).

Cobra is one of the few Stallone films I’ve never seen, but more importantly, it was directed by George P. Cosmatos, a mad Greek-Italian-Canadian whose C.V. isn’t long (10 films + 1 TV episode), but contains some of the best action films of their day, of which Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) is his best-known.

I’ll eventually get to Rambo, but for this examination of his work, let’s start with one that bears a bit of mystique, being a classic example of violent eighties actioners which most critics loathed, but I’m sure a good contingent enjoyed because they were pure popcorn movies: big, loud, kinetic, and filled with the exaggerated machismo that isn’t easy to replicate today.

That genetic combination was unique to the decade because heroes weren’t weak, spoke few words, and regardless of how much carnage they caused – directly or indirectly – they earned the respect (begrudgingly) of their superiors, or even got promoted. Spilling blood was fine as long as it oozed from the cadaver of scum.

And scum is exactly what the villains were. Not even comic-bookish; just evil. Whether covered in a consistent slime of glycerin sweat and grubby clothes, or cultured to the point of playing chamber piano solos (Lance Henriksen in John Woo’s Hard Target) before hunting humans with a crossbow, the villains had no social value.

The screen persona of Sylvester Stallone was the extreme antidote to the purebred villains: a man of action, little time for romance, let alone emotions, and a preference to sleep with a chilled gun instead of a warm hot body. Love or whoopee would have to be set aside until after the End Credit crawl, but the fact Stallone’s characters tolerated women was a sign he had a heart and was capable of being in love. To be a sexist was native to the hero, and that rampant misogyny may very well have stemmed not just from pulp novels, but the seventies Italian crime thrillers, where women were similarly dragged, booted, and ferried around like luggage or an unfinished lunch.

Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray release, part of a 4-film Stallone wave (including Assassins, Demolition Man, and The Specialist), should also please fans of the Cannon Boys, Menachem Golan and Yorum Globus – the two Israeli cousins who built a small production empire making exploitive, violent B-movies.

Cobra [M], however, doesn’t feel like a Cannon film. It’s too upscale, lacks the famous ‘Dub-Dub, Dub-Dub-Dub’ logo, and probably would’ve contained more violence had it been a pure Cannon film. Like fellow indie prodco Carolco, makers of Rambo, Cannon wasn’t concerned with making nice movies, and among action fans there’s a wellspring of affection & nostalgia today for these flicks that delivered key goods with precision, and without fear of upsetting critics, or moral tightwads.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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