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:


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