Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Brannigan--The Duke in London

My wife and I have remarkably similar tastes in films and television. That will happen when two television production majors spend 33 years watching movies and TV series together. However, our tastes in cinema still show the influence of our pre-marriage years. Hence, I found myself recenly watching Brannigan alone. My sweetheart's lack of interest in viewing John Wayne's 1975 cop picture is based solely on the fact that it's not very good. My desire to see it was driven by nostalgia and curiosity as much as anything. I think the last time I saw it was at the movie theatre during its original release.

The plot follows police Lieutenant Jim Brannigan's pursuit of a Chicago mobster named Larkin (John Vernon). When Brannigan (John Wayne) learns that Scotland Yard has arrested Larkin, he heads to London to bring the gangster back to the States. Unfortunately, the Brits allow Larkin to be kidnapped and held for ransom. Meanwhile, a professional hitman, hired by Larkin for $25,000, has set his sights on eliminating pesky Brannigan.

An uncomfortable Richard Attenborough
in a supporting role.
Brannigan was John Wayne's second contemporary urban crime picture of the 1970s. The first, McQ, had been a modest boxoffice hit in 1974. Both films took aim at replicating the success of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry movies and its clones such as Charles Bronson's The Stone Killer. Like Harry Callahan, Brannigan carries a big gun, tosses off wisecracks, and challenges authority figures. Even the opening credits sequence of Brannigan, which features Jim's .38 caliber Colt Diamondback prominently, borrows liberally from Magnum Force.

Alas, from the outset, Brannigan has several factors working against it. At age 68, Wayne still convinces us he's a tough guy, but he lacks the rough edges that Eastwood and Bronson brought to their urban "heroes." The script doesn't help him either. The film's big twist is blatantly obvious from the beginning. It's also the kind of movie where the professional killer tries to run down Brannigan in a car instead of just shooting him and collecting a paycheck. 

Judy Geeson.
Furthermore, the whole "fish out of water" angle--a tough Chicago cop paired with those well-mannered British detectives--just doesn't work as executed by the cast. Richard Attenborough looks downright uncomfortable as Brannigan's Scotland Yard superior, playing the part with one of those "what am I doing doing here?" expressions. Judy Geeson, who sparkled in To Sir With Love, has little do as Brannigan's temporary partner. Her scenes are pretty much limited to admiring Brannigan (in  a fatherly way) and waiting to be rescued when the hitman finally makes his move.

Yet, despite its many flaws, I think Brannigan had the potential to be a mindless, entertaining urban thriller. One would just have to beef up the plot, recast Eastwood in the lead and Tyne Daly as his partner, and get Don Siegel to direct it. It'd probably need a different title, too--something like Dirty Harry Goes to London.


  1. John Vernon! Could the bad guy have been anyone else?

  2. Seen it on telly, once. Even as a John Wayne fan it wasn't that enjoyable. Eastwood had left him trailing miles behind in the 70's. Old man Duke could never compete. This film has lots of old men, all too old to still be police officers, getting into punch ups in English pubs.