From Novel to Film pt. 15: Cobra


A Running Duck was first published as a novella in 1974 but was expanded in 1978 to a full-length novel, Fair Game. According to its author, the movie tie-in book was denied the use of Sly's likeness since it was Gosling's original story and not a novelization of the (heavily changed) script for Cobra. Resulting in that somewhat-messy looking cover.

Cover aside, how is it? Meh - not really my type of book, but it's definitely a cut above, say, either of the books that inspired Die Hard or Die Harder. One of the reviews I read said it was fiction in the Thomas Harris vein, which seems fair enough. If you like Thomas Harris, you'll probably like A Running Duck / Fair Game.

THE PLOT: Clare Randall, an executive for a major San Francisco ad agency, alerts a man she sees in the park one afternoon that he's dropped some papers. This is all it takes to ensnare her in a world of danger. That evening, she is running for a cab when she is suddenly shot by a sniper. Mike Malchek, an ex-sniper/ Vietnam vet presently employed as the SFPD's exert on snipers and hitmen, is assigned to the case. He learns that the assassination attempt was the work of Edison, a hitman he's been tracking for years. When Clare's fiancé is killed when Edison wires her apartment to explode, Malchek takes Clare into protective custody and then on a tour of California's redwood forests to draw Edison out. Just as sparks begin to fly between Clare and Malchek, Edison makes his move.

Clare is a decent character. Not just a damsel in peril - she is realistically frightened, sure, but she's a career woman with a definite personality and backbone. Malchek is the "suffers from hidden scars" sort of cop. When his partner - kinder, gentler Gonzales - asks him what the hell is wrong with him in one scene, he answers that he's torn between protecting Clare and using her as bait for Edison. Later, when they start romancing it up, he worries about whether or not he could support them on his meager cop's salary. (Forgetting, I guess, that she's an advertising executive. But hey, he's old school, as is remarked upon in many places.)

Again, not a bad read. Atmospheric set pieces and sustained tension. 


Not much of Gosling's novel makes it into the movie. Ingrid Knudsen -


is a harmless Los Angeles model who witnesses a murder commited by a neo-Fascist serial killer called the Night Slasher. When she becomes his next target, she is put under the protection of the LAPD's most uncompromising, most notoriously violent cop:

 Marion Cobretti, aka

I mean this guy hates crime. It says it right on the poster: "Crime is a disease; meet the cure." We never see him cure anyone, but we do get an explicit sense of his methodology and bedside manner.

There's no point in trying to review this one, since perfection has already been attained in Cobra scholarship in the form of this I-Mockery overview, "Things That Make Cobra One of the Most Underrated Macho Badass Action Movies of All Time." And why try and improve on perfection? It even contains a link to download the old Commodore 64 game, for eff's sake. (Though I've never clicked it.)

The whole thing is essential reading. Here are only some highlights, as interrupted by my own comment and screencaps:

"If you ask me, there are very few things in this world that can hold a candle to the purely awesome and cheesy horror flicks of the 80's. If I had to pick something else that has brought me the same level of amusement over the years, it's gotta be the equally cheesy action movies from the same decade." 

"'Marion Cobretti' is quite possibly one of the greatest names ever created for a macho badass. Knowing that it sounds like a woman's name, he simply goes by the name Cobra to help instill fear into the hearts of his enemies, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a sense of humor about his real name. At one point in the movie he tells the woman he's trying to protect that he wishes he had a tougher name... like Alice. On top of that, he likes health food to the extent that he even tells his friend to try eating more prunes, raisins, fish and rice. See how secure he is in his manliness? That's what being a macho badass is all about."  

"But there's more to a macho badass than just his name and his looks. Actions speak louder than words, and Cobra is ALL about the action. (...) After a gang member talks shit to Cobra for pushing his car out of the way, Cobra walks up to him and says, "Clean up your act," grabs the punk's shirt and tears it straight down and then walks away. How do you even react to something like that happening to you? I'll tell you how: you don't. You just stand there in awe, wishing you could be that awesome, but you know it'll never happen. Why? Because somebody far more awesome than you just tore the shirt right off your back, sucka."

Too true. I think Wittgenstein once wrote something very similar.

Cobra features a pretty wack-a-doo montage, as I-Mockery notes enthusiastically:

"No action movie is complete without the hero getting the other kind of "action" at some point. Cobra is no exception to that rule, but in this movie, they decide to go the extra mile by showcasing how much of a supermodel freak his woman is during a montage backed up by Robert Tepper's "Angel of the City". Granted, the song isn't nearly as good as "No Easy Way Out", but for what it lacks in that category, they try to make up for it with ridiculous outfits for her to model and.... robots. Between shots of Cobra searching the streets for clues, the manly music of Robert Tepper and a model posing with robots for no apparent reason at all... you've got yourself one HELL of an action movie montage that you won't soon forget." 

First off, the "No Easy Way Out" montage from Rocky IV is probably the high water mark of the montage genre. I'm including anything by Sergei Eisenstein in this reckoning. (Another contender - the montage from One Crazy Summer where they're fixing up the boat. Though actually, the "fixing up the boat/ car/ house" montage is probably a sub-genre all of its own.) Any attempt to explain or summarize the 80s that does not at least namecheck the "No Easy Way Out" montage is unworthy. 

Now, as for the Cobra montage...

No attempt is made to alert the viewer that he or she is now in Montage territory.
Just, all of a sudden, quick flashes of these robots start appearing on screen.
Sly and his partner hit the skids to look for clues.
Ohhh, it's a photo shoot. (Seriously, this is teased out as a mystery for almost a full minute of the song before the reveal.)
The montage is split between four things:

1) Shots of transients and transvestite hookers:

2) Shots of Sly looking around, out the window, or at tattoo designs of the Night Slasher's gang symbols in alleyways.

3) Shots of the actual Night Slasher and his gang:

and 4) Brigitte Nielsen writhing around in different costumes with these robots.


Typically, a montage has a definite ending shot, so the audience knows the regular narrative has resumed.

Which Cobra's does, as this van turns and speeds off into the distance.
but then it cuts back to the studio -
and the robots start to blink and move back and forth.
Wait, what? Is this like a Toy Story thing, where the robots come alive once the humans leave the room? It makes no sense, but it's very deliberately done. Food for thought: Rocky IV also features a somewhat incongruous robot subplot. What the hell was it with Sly and robots during the mid-80s?

Let's get back to the I-mockery:

"Naturally, with a badass like Cobra and a total psychopath like the Night Slasher, there's going to be a big showdown. And can you think of a better place for the two of them to have a showdown at than in an old foundry surrounded metal pipes, chains, fire and pits of molten lava? Talk about a perfect scenario."

"So after their classic lines are delivered, the two of them go head-to-head in the fight of their lives." 

"For awhile, it looks as thought the Night Slasher might overpower Cobra with his knife. But come on, this is Cobra we're talking about. He's not gonna go this far only to quit now."

Cobra turns the tables and manages to impale the Night Slasher on that giant hook shown above.

"You can't just impale a psycho on a hook and call it a day. You have to make sure that hook happens to be traveling into a fiery abyss so that the psycho will not only suffer a death by impalement, but he'll be burned alive as well. You gotta send that psycho straight to hell and make sure he stays there." 

"My friends, THIS is how you end a big action movie showdown."

Quite. I can only add that the film goes the extra mile and ends with two other 80s essentials: unnecessary helicopter shots and the hero and heroine motorcycling off into the future.

George P. Cosmatos allegedly directed Cobra. There's some speculation that Stallone more or less directed it himself, or, like Kurt Russell on Tombstone, handed him a list of shots every day and allowed himself to be directed, so long as Cosmatos stuck to the gameplan. I have no idea if this is actually the case or not, but whomever is responsible for this beautiful mess of stupid awesomeness should receive appropriate honors. Ax-Clanking Across America, maybe?

Shot at various locations in and around Los Angeles:

"Let's bleed pig! I want your eyes pig! I want them! You wanna go to hell? Huh??? Huh pig!? You wanna go to hell with me? Doesn't matter, does it? We are the hunters! We kill the weak so the strong survive! You can't stop the new world. Your filthy society will never get rid of people like us! It's breeding them! We are the future!"



    ....Someone had to make the obvious joke (then again, how many people still remember that annoying little creep from G.I. Joe?).

    I've actually sampled Tepper's music from Cobra without actually seeing the film, so this is the first time I see the images it goes to. I may have to remedy that now.

    The book itself also sounds interesting, though I have to wonder if a remake wouldn't be just middle of the road.

    One thing I can say is how the passage of time can make what seemed disposable turn out to be pretty essential. Back during the 80s everyone looked down on the kind of music people like Tepper and bands like Jefferson Starship or Metropolis were doing. Today, however, in the era of the Spice Girls, Lady Gaga and The Bieber-monster, it's nice to see that the classic 80s songs and the bands that made them are starting to get respect and recognition for what they are, actually pretty solid rock music.

    End of rant.


    1. You're so right about the music of the era. I was just remembering some Amy Grant song that was huge at the time and I couldn't stand it. But now when I hear it, it's like opening up a sealed tomb of memories and evokes the era so vividly for me, that I love it. Ditto for stuff by Tepper, definitely, and Russ Ballard, too.

      I never saw it, but this story was made into another movie, Fair Game, with Cindy Crawford and William Baldwin. I don't think it's any closer to the source material, though.

      Did you ever see the GI Joe episode of Community? Fantastic for any fan of the 80s cartoon.

    2. No, sadly, I haven't seen that "Community" episode. One more item on the list.


  2. The robot...thing...for lack of a better term might be some kind of dig at Arnold's massive Terminator success, maybe? That would have been right at the height of the Stallone/Schwarzenegger rivalry.

    I can't for the life of me remember if I've seen this flick. It seems like I must have. So many of Stallone's flicks from that era blend together for me. My brother had a girlfriend at the time who, along with her twin sister, were absolute freaks for Stallone. They claimed to have a "special relationship" with him, despite never having met him. They were genuinely good-looking, intelligent girls, but the Stallone thing they had going was intense to the point of being unnerving. It made me avoid most things Stallone. I know it wasn't anything to do with him, just the contact high from their bizarre fixation on the guy.

    1. Twins who had a bizarre Stallone fixation is an anecdote of many colors. I love it, and at the same time, I can see how it would unnerve.

      Interesting speculation re: the Sly/Schwarzeneggar mano-y-mano of yesteryear. Very well could be.

  3. Somehow, I've managed -- despite being a child of the eighties -- not to see "Cobra." All these years and it still hasn't happened. I had a friend once who swore by it, and somehow even SHE never managed to get me to sit down and watch the fuckin' thing.

    Not because I've got anything against the idea. I don't. I just haven't made it happen.

    And now I'm thinking maybe it never will, because there is NO WAY that robot montage -- WHAT?!? -- can live up to its presentation here. Only disappointment can follow.

    I was happy to see a screencap of Brian Thompson. I always like seeing that guy. If I ever make a movie, he is IN it.

    Your line about Eisenstein cracked me up. I imagine him traveling forward into time, seeing something like "Cobra," and just hanging his head, walking back to his time machine, and weeping across the continuum.

    It's kind of curious that the source material was written by a woman. I can't imagine many of the super-testosterone-fest flicks of the eighties had any female involvement at the writing level, which arguably sets this one apart.

    1. I watched Cobra an awful lot in the 80s and then not for 20+ years. When I first came across that I-Mockery review a couple of years ago, I sought it out.

      (The real forgotten classic of the Stallone genre is Nighthawks. That film rules.)

      I hope that time traveling Eisenstein's anxiety at seeing the Cobra montage is what inspired him to back to the USSR and give it his best shot.

      I agree on the irony, here, of Cobra being based on a book written by a woman. I guarantee no one would ever assume that was the case from watching Cobra. But, the book is more or less a whole different story than this crazy business with the robots. I love it when that happens. "We want to make your story into a movie - how about we change the setting, plot, and make the man the main character, after changing his name and personality? And add a big finish in a foundry surrounded by giant hooks? And a huge emphasis on weapons and a souped-up old Mercury?" Paula Gosling said Sly or none of his people ever called her; she was just paid once when the rights were sold and that was that and then found out years later it was a Stallone movie. Too bad. But, I hope she got some good money out of it. I don't think Stallone ever did.