It’s interesting to compare Cannon with Mannix. Both are conventional private eye series employing a pretty similar formula, with an up-market P.I. investigating cases that mostly avoid getting into overtly grim or sleazy territory and both series put a certain emphasis on glamour (Cannon is a connoisseur of fine food and good living). They’re both private eyes who depart from the all-too-common cliché of the private eye as a maverick outsider. Interestingly both Mannix and Cannon have car phones at a time when such things were rare and expensive, another indication that we’re dealing with successful up-market private detectives. Both series have likeable charismatic leads.
So why is Mannix a great P.I. series while Cannon is a merely good series? The main differences are that overall Mannix has better scripts, faster pacing and more energy. Mannix tries that little bit harder, and it pays off.
Cannon’s problem is that the scripts in general are serviceable but they’re nothing special.
Cannon was a Quinn Martin production so you know it’s going to be well-made and it’s going to be polished. It gave the producer yet another solid hit. It also transformed William Conrad into a major star.
As in the first season Cannon himself is the only recurring character. That’s something you can only get away with if your star has charisma to burn, which William Conrad most certainly has.
Once again Cannon spends very little time in L.A. with an extraordinary number of stories having rural settings. Cannon is not a P.I. who would seem at home on the mean streets of a big city. Even when he’s in L.A. he’s mostly moving in the world of the reasonably prosperous middle class, but of course he is a high-priced private detective so that makes sense. Cannon is a series that is happy to confront corruption but it prefers to keep its distance from the really seamy side of life. Which is OK, because in the 70s movies and TV started to get a bit too obsessed with the whole mean streets thing.
As with the first season the DVD release is a bit disappointing. The image quality is not exactly pristine.
Bad Cats and Sudden Death is typical Cannon. Cannon is hired by an old pal, Deputy DA Mike Arnold, who is charged with murdering his wife. It seems that the murder may be connected to a stolen car racket. The plot is adequate and while it’s nothing special it’s pretty enjoyable.
In Sky Above, Death Below a young woman persuades Cannon that the accidental death of her union boss father was murder. Unfortunately there’s no evidence, except for a very slim possibility that there was a witness. It’s a fairly routine plot but it has a good action climax with Cannon, the girl and the witness besieged in a mountaintop Indian ruin by four armed hoods. Reasonably entertaining and its features a very energetic Frank Cannon!
Bitter Legion concerns Vietnam vets being recruited for daring armed robberies. Cannon stumbles across this whilst looking for a Corporal Rowan. Rowan’s Vietnamese wife hired Cannon when her husband vanished. This one ends with a pretty spectacular shootout, with automatic weapons. Look out for Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees in a supporting rôle. A moderately good episode.
In That Was No Lady Cannon is hired to protect a female attorney who’s been getting dead threats. And since one of her assistants just got blown up when his car exploded it’s reasonable to assume the threats are serious. The attorney is defending a couple of small-time crooks accused of stealing a couple of hundred thousand dollars worth of negotiable bonds, a job that seems to Cannon to be well out of their league. It’s an interesting episode since we see Cannon breaking the case by doing the kind of methodical routine investigative work that actual private detectives spent most of their professional lives doing. And it still manages to have some excitement and it’s an entertaining episode.
Stakeout seems like a straightforward case. A bar owner is tired of getting robbed so she hires Cannon to stake the place out. Sure enough some punk tries to rob the place and Cannon is ready for him. Then things get difficult. The punk’s girl accomplice has a rich ex-cop dad who owns a big security firm and he’s determined to keep his little girl’s name out of it, by fair means or foul. Cannon doesn’t like crooked ex-cops and he’s not prepared to play ball. A reasonably entertaining episode, with Cannon being extremely stubborn and bloody-minded.
The Predators takes Cannon way out west where a rancher is facing criminal charges after an unidentified man is killed by a coyote getter. And what are coyote getters? They’re booby traps for killing coyotes. They explode and send out a shower of cyanide pellets. They’re deadly to coyotes, and obviously deadly for anything unlucky enough to step on them. Including people. Ranchers are supposed to post warning signs but this one didn’t so she’s facing prosecution. She hires Cannon to get her off the hook. Of course the case actually involves a lot more than just a very unfortunate accident.
It’s a solid if not exactly wildly original episode but it's done pretty well and it gets bonus points for the bizarre murder method.
A Long Way Down involves drugs being stolen from a hospital. A black doctor has been framed for the thefts and Cannon’s job is to prove him innocent to save the hospital from a great deal of trouble. It’s a well-organised racket run by a ruthless gang. An average episode.
The Rip Off is both interestingly original and routine. It starts well, with Cannon being employed by an insurance company to investigate a series of robberies of freight cars. They key to the robberies is the use of the very latest 1972-vintage computer technology. We’re not talking primitive punch card machines here. We’re talking about data stored on cassette tapes. Cutting edge stuff in 1972. Unfortunately the episode then becomes routine stuff with a custody dispute (involving the mastermind behind the robberies) leading to kidnapping. The computer stuff is fun though and it’s a pretty good episode.
Child of Fear takes Canon to the Lucas Ranch. Mrs Lucas’s husband has been missing for several days. The ranch is patrolled by a private army but it’s not clear exactly what it is that they’re guarding or why they’re doing it so aggressively or why Mrs Lucas seems so uncomfortable with their presence. It’s also not clear why these private guards seem so hostile towards Cannon. An average episode, entertaining enough without being anything special.
In The Shadow Man a property developer falls off a cliff but when his wife comes back with help there’s no body to be found. And the man was carrying $350,000 in negotiable securities with him at the time. The wife hires Cannon to find her husband. The awkward aspect of the case is that the wife is a prime suspect. Cannon is not quite convinced of her innocence but he’s not convinced of her guilt either. A fairly solid episode.
In Hear No Evil ex-con Dale Corey is getting some serious pressure from a group of shady businessmen. Dale had served time for illegally planting listening devices. It’s all to do with blackmail but Cannon has to figure out exactly who is blackmailing whom and why. A pretty decent episode with some effective twists.
In The Endangered Species Bill Coates is accused of shooting his own son. The evidence is circumstantial and he has a hot shot lawyer. And he has his old friend Frank Cannon working to find out what really happened. The viewer already knows what happened but we don’t know why. And it’s the why that matters if Cannon is to crack the case. A decent episode.
Nobody Beats the House is a gambling story and of course gamblers like Toby Hauser always think they can beat the house. Now Toby can’t pay and he’s going to get killed for it unless Cannon can get him out of the mess. And maybe Cannon can beat the house. A routine episode but quite watchable.
In Hard Rock Roller Coaster Cannon is hired by wealthy art dealer Raymond Thurston to solve the puzzle of the man who wandered onto his estate. The man had been badly beaten and has lost his memory completely. Thurston’s eccentric niece has adopted the man (she has a thing for birds with broken wings). The only thing the man can remember is the lyrics to a T. Rex song, Baby Boomerang. Cannon isn’t sure that the story adds up, or at least he’s not sure what it adds up to. There’s also a very clever lizard and a girl folk singer named Ariel. It’s a pretty good episode.
The Dead Samaritan gets its title from a good deed gone wrong. An accountant named Bell goes to the aid of a young woman who is being assaulted. He slugs the guy who promptly drops dead from a heart attack so now Bell is facing a murder rap and he hires Cannon to find the young woman. There were several witnesses but their stories don’t quite fit with Bell’s and Bell is not telling the truth about a number of things but there are lots of things that don’t quite add up and Cannon suspects there’s something much more complicated going on here. A good story.
Death of a Stone Seahorse involves the murder of a marine biologist. His girlfriend didn’t do it but because of her personal history she’s an obvious suspect. There are plenty of nasty little dramas connected with this particular marine biology institute and Cannon finds himself with a difficult client. Cannon gets a great line in this episode towards the end, but I won’t ruin it by telling you what it is. A serviceable episode.
Moving Target has a promising setup. Phillip Trask has written the autobiography of a tycoon but the book is a total fake. Then he decides to write another book exposing his own fake. His collaborator in the fraud drops dead on national television and now Trask is scared he’s going to be next so he hires Cannon. Cannon sets Trask up in a safe house but it’s a moving safe house - a motorhome. So there are some original touches in this one and it has a nicely worked-out plot. A very good episode.
In Murder for Murder a young woman, high on drugs, falls from a balcony to her death. Her father is convinced that two brothers, healthy industrialists, were responsible for her death and he wants revenge. Cannon has to uncover the truth before the father does something stupid. A routine episode.
To Ride a Tiger is also fairly routine. An ex-con is running a halfway house for other ex-cons, he gets accused of murdering a cop and then his lawyer disappears. Cannon is hired by the ex-con’s girlfriend to find the missing lawyer and to do that he’ll have to find the cop killer.
In Prisoners Cannon is hired by doting parents whose idiot son has managed to get himself a ten year prison sentence in Turkey for drugs. A young man has contacted the father, suggesting there may be a way to get the son out. It sounds complicated and of course it’s actually even more complicated than it seems. The central idea isn’t original but it’s used in a fairly interesting way. A solid episode.
Press Pass to the Slammer is pretty much standard Cannon fare - several not very original ideas combined together reasonably well. There’s the reluctant witness (to what appestats to be a Mob slaying), there’s the crushing reporter prepared to go to prison for contempt of court rather than reveal her source, there’s a criminal underground railway operation. It’s passable enough entertainment.
In Deadly Heritage a woman hires Cannon to find a young man, the illegitimate son of her deceased husband. She has an urgent reason for wanting to find the young man and it might have been better had she told Cannon the reason. It’s a reasonably OK episode.
Season two confirms my impressions of season one, that Cannon is watchable enough if you’re in the mood for undemanding entertainment. It helps a great deal if you like William Conrad. Worth a rental.