Saturday, September 22, 2012

Television Review: CANNON: "Photo Finish" (1974)

CANNON: Photo Finish (Season 3; 1974) Starring William Conrad, Jack Cassidy, Herb Edelman, Hal Williams.  Directed by George McGowan.  Written by John Hawkins.

I've written about CBS' 1971-76 series CANNON before, but never given any of the episodes the QUINCY, M.E. treatment.  And I still haven't, because this isn't a play by play breakdown of "Photo Finish", just a normal review.  What can I say, I'm out of practice after an extended break.

CANNON is a Horn Section favorite for a number of reasons.  First, it was one of the few long-running series of the 1970's to feature only one regular cast member.  Second, it's a refreshing throwback in terms of network interference.  With a distinct lack of pandering to audience demographics, the balding, portly, Fiftyish William Conrad was trusted to keep us interested with no perceived need to bring in a "young stud" to attract the ladies (i.e. Mark Shera in BARNABY JONES or Joe Penny in Conrad's later JAKE AND THE FATMAN) or eye candy for the men (Lee Meriwether in JONES).  Don't get me wrong: I liked BARNABY too, but I'm a purist, and CANNON stayed a loner all the way to the 1976 end of his series.

Finally, CANNON had more good scripts than bad scripts, emphasized brains over brawn the majority of the time and didn't overstay its welcome.  You won't get hit over the head with any social issues here, since CANNON was always about the case itself.  Frank Cannon won't preach, but he will stop for a gourmet meal from time to time (like, about three or four times per episode).  He knows judo too, but that doesn't come into play in "Photo Finish", the show's first episode of that Watergate year of 1974.

Retired cop turned expensive P.I. Frank Cannon arrives at the firing range to speak with a new prospective client, Mr. O'Hara.  "General O'Hara", he's corrected, by a lady who's clearly an admirer.  Played by COLUMBO villain extraordinaire Jack Cassidy, General O'Hara turns out to be one of those popular character types on network dramas of the period: the high ranking official from an unnamed country with diplomatic immunity in the United States.  After he establishes himself as a card carrying badass (shrugging off a perfect showing on the range as "par for the course" at the world class level) we get down to business.

The general's brother was killed in California several years earlier, and O'Hara wants to hire Cannon to identify the murderer.  It's a tricky assignment--he was using an alias and O'Hara initially wants Cannon to notify him, and him only.  Cannon refuses on those grounds, but O'Hara is persistent about "the best".  He offers a substantial increase in Cannon's already high fee and acquiesces to the P.I.'s insistence on taking any murderer he finds to the police.

A dogged investigation ensues, with gunshots coming Cannon's way in his high rise apartment (from a helicopter) and at a phone booth.  The detective is unnerved, but carries on, checking in with O'Hara every other day.  An entire act is spent on one lead, only to take us back to square one.  With the assistance of former colleague Edelman, Cannon finally uncovers the killer who was never brought to justice and more information about his employer's background.  Let's just say the casting of Cassidy should tip off any Seventies TV fan, and the finale lives up to the episode's title.

"Photo Finish" is the only CANNON episode scripted by John Hawkins (BONANZA), and he does a commendable job not only providing a compelling plot but also of avoiding the show's cliches.  In addition to the lack of judo chops, Cannon also manages to avoid a concussion this time.  Hawkins adeptly reminds us why we enjoyed visiting Frank Cannon every week, providing excellent examples of Cannon's courage, resourcefulness and determination to do the right thing.

Is it live, or.......... it Memorex?
One of the primary reasons to wait for CANNON's Third Season on DVD (update: Amazon now shows it available for pre-order on demand), Photo Finish is a prime example of why I consider Season 3 to be CANNON at its peak.  Also, you'll find more than a few things to be snarky about here, particularly during Act IV's gun range showdown.  Don't worry: I'm avoiding any further spoilers for now.  Maybe I'll give this episode full enchilada sometime in the future--it is deserving.

In the meantime, let's be happy that we can finally get Season 3 of CANNON through Amazon, since the Me-TV brain trust has decided to give Battling Bill Conrad a breather.  It's a damned frustrating programming decision!

DANIEL BOONE was kept on the schedule over this???

I hear ya, dude, I hear ya.  More reviews to come!

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