zaterdag 24 januari 2015

Brannigan (1975)

BRANNIGAN (1975, Douglas Hickox) 

John Wayne, Richard Attenborough, John Vernon, Mel Ferrer, Judy Geeson, Ralph Meeker, Daniel Pilon, John Stride, Lesley Anne Down 

By the mid Seventies the cop movie had almost entirely elbowed out the western, so everybody was making movies about tough renegade cops, capitalizing on the popularity of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry movies. John Wayne was no exception. If McQ (1974) had been a fairly standard Dirty Harry clone, Brannigan is more closely modeled after Coogan’s Bluff, the Clint Eastwood-Don Siegel collaboration that had served as a traditional movie for Eastwood’s career: it had transferred the man with no name from the dusty western towns to the urban jungle of the modern metropolis (1).

Like Coogan’s Bluff, Brannigan is western disguised as a cop movie. Or rather a cop movie with a western heart. After all anything starring John Wayne has a western lurking beneath the surface. Big John is Big Jim Brannigan, a no-nonsense Chicago detective sent to London to extradite an American gangster, Ben Larkin (John Vernon). Larkin is out on bail and before Brannigan can collect him, the gangster is kidnapped for ransom by a couple of local thugs. Brannigan will now have to cooperate with the British police forces to ‘save’ the gangster’s life. In the meantime a professional killer from New Orleans, ordered by Larkin to eliminate Brannigan, has also arrived in London.

The movie is leisurely paced but the intricate script (co-written by Dalton Trumbo’s son Christopher) keeps things moving; the story element of the kidnapping adds some flair to the familiar fish-out-of-the-water plot. The action scenes are well-executed, notably a car chase through central London with the Duke crash-landing after jumping his car over a half-raised Tower Bridge. Of course we also get a lot of verbal sparrings between the tough cop from Chicago and his sophisticated colleague from Scotland Yard (Richard Attenbrough in fine form), plus a traditional barroom brawl, for the occasion set in British pub and played for laugh.

Brannigan is routine but the change of location and the tongue-in-cheek approach by director Hickox do the Duke well. He wasn’t getting any younger, but obviously driving a car - even on the wrong side of the street - was physically less demanding at this point of his career than riding a horse. Overall this is one of his more enjoyable movies from the Seventies, easygoing, a bit sluggish in spots, but never boring. They should have done a bit more with the character played by Judy Geeson, the female cop who’s supposed to show Brannigan around in London. Originally the role was meant for Vanessa Redgrave and she was supposed to play a much stronger character, but the producers feared that the actors’ conflicting political views might lead to problems on the set.


* (1) You can read my review of COOGAN'S BLUFF here:

zondag 18 januari 2015

The Party (1968)

THE PARTY (1968, Blake Edwards) 

Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Marge Champion, Al Checco, Corinne Cole, Dick Crockett, Frances Davis, Danielle De Metz, Herb Ellis, Paul Ferrara, Steve Franken

A cult classic by the director and star actor of the Pink Panther movies. It was virtually shot without a script to create maximum headroom for Sellers' famous improvisations.

Once again Sellers is a foreigner, but this time he’s not Inspector Clouseau, the clumsy police detective from France, but a bit player from India called Hrundo V. Bakshi, probably the worst actor in the world. He was engaged to play a bit part in a Gunga Din like production, but has ruined this chance of a lifetime by literally blowing up the set. The producer wants to make sure that this idiot will never work in Hollywood again, but due to a misunderstanding, Bakshi is invited for a Hollywood jet set party. Of course the over-polite but extremely clumsy Bakshi has no trouble to do to the party what he did to the movie; from the moment he arrives, everything goes wrong, with increasingly devastating results ...

With the exception of the pre-credit sequence, the film was entirely shot on one gigantic studio set representing a state-of-the art mansion equipped with electronically controlled gimmicks (a floor opening to a swimming pool, retractable bars, a fake garden with imitation garden plants and imitation garden trees, etc). The idea was inspired by the sets created by French comedy genius Jacques Tati for his movie Play Time (1967); Tati was a personal favorite of both Edwards and Sellers and many of the jokes involving inanimate objects and technological devices are modeled after similar jokes in Tati’s movies featuring Monsieur Hulot, notably Mon Oncle (1958). Sellers and Edwards used the video assist system (introduced to film making by Jerry Lewis in The Bell Boy) to adjust the timing of the jokes.

Compared to Tati, whose movies are funny, poetic and philosophical contemplations about modern life, the comedy of The Party may seem rather superficial, but Sellers is in top form, it’s really his show, his movie. Steve Franken is also quite funny as the increasingly inebriated butler. Because of the improvisations, some of the very best scenes are almost ‘silent’, such as the classic toilet scene. Unfortunately the momentum isn’t sustained until the very end; the insanity escalades in the last twenty minutes, with lots of foam and even a baby elephant, but for more than an hour, this is a lovely, often delicately funny comedy.


* (1) Jerry Lewis is generally credited for inventing a prototype of the VA-system. Scenes were shot simultanuously on film and videotape, which allowed Lewis to check te results of a shot scene immediately and check his timing. Jerry Lewis at work with the video assist system:
For an elaborate description of the video assist system and the use of it by Jerry Lewis and Sellers/Edwards, see: