“The Duke’s in London. God save the Queen!”
This was the second of two mid 70’s flicks that put John Wayne into modern day shoot’em ups. The first being McQ in 1974. For Brannigan it’s a double novelty. Duke in modern duds chasing down bad guys and secondly casting him as a fish out of water in London paired with Sir Richard Attenborough as a Scotland Yard Captain and Judy Geeson as a young officer assigned to keep him out of trouble.
Duke’s no nonsense cop, Brannigan, has been sent to England by Capt. Ralph Meeker to pick up underworld figure, John Vernon. A gangland fixture that Duke has been hoping to lock up for years. Once in England Duke will meet Miss Geeson who is about half his size and of course Sir Richard. While pleasantries are being exchanged over a few drinks, Vernon and his shady lawyer, Mel Ferrer are plotting to have Duke taken out by a professional mechanic as enacted by Daniel Pilon.
Duke’s plans for a simple pick up and return to Chicago go sideways when local English mobsters kidnap Vernon and hold him ransom for money that Ferrer will have to raise from Vernon’s mob holdings. This latest development gives Duke a license to hit the streets of London looking for leads with Geeson in tow and Attenborough less than enamored of the idea. While Duke follows the ransom money to no avail, he’ll narrowly avoid the first attempt on his life as well as a roving eye from the landlady putting him up for his stay in England. Yeah the Duke can still cause a heart or two to flutter. He’ll even score a friendly kiss on the cheek from Miss Geeson who proclaims, “You’re just so damned solid.”
No this isn’t a western but Duke’s a hard drinker and still uses the customary lingo as if he’s just walked off of the Red River Range. When it comes to roughing up a British hood who might have some pertinent information as to Vernon’s whereabouts, Duke, is quick to point out, “A little hard to understand his accent.” Still the big man got what he was looking for. Say, isn’t that a saloon? In a John Wayne movie a saloon can only mean one thing. If you said a fist fight than you’d be right. Yes it’s silly as hell and doesn’t really work but the look on Attenborough’s face when Duke nails him on the kisser makes the whole bit worthwhile.
Since this is a fish out of water story, time for our American Cowboy to take off after a suspect by commandeering a civilian’s car. Wait a minute, that means Duke’s driving on the wrong side of the road and those draw bridges in London can sure mess up a new car when one attempts to make the leap.
“This isn’t Chicago you know, Brannigan!”
No sir, Attenborough, isn’t exactly overjoyed at Duke’s strong armed tactics on the streets of London or his refusing to give up possession of his .38 special. With that gun in hand, Duke’s going to pick up the pace by piecing things together and put Ferrer on the spot in order to get to Vernon. All he’ll have to do is stay one step ahead of hitman, Pilon, who somehow keeps missing his mark despite Duke being the biggest man on camera.
To wrap this up it’s time for Duke to take a very Eastwood like pose at the finish.
Produced by Duke’s son Michael, Brannigan, was directed by England’s own, Douglas Hickox. I’d say he was on a roll having just directed a tough Oliver Reed flick, Sitting Target, and one of Vincent Price’s best remembered movies, Theater of Blood. Story and screenplay credits go to a quartet of writers including Christopher Trumbo. Before you ask, yes he’s the son of Dalton. Also appearing as a call girl and just one year short of her memorable turn in The Pink Panther Strikes Again is Lesley-Anne Down. Surely you remember her as the sexy lady in the fur coat driving Inspector Clouseau crazy with passion and a tightly knotted tie.
Always one to keep my eye on the backdrop of big city locations, I spotted a large billboard in Piccadilly Circus advertising Claire Bloom, Martin Shaw and Joss Ackland in the 1974 stage version of A Streetcar named Desire. Apparently Miss Bloom made a remarkable Blanche Dubois.
While I enjoy both Brannigan and McQ they do give me pause to wonder just how powerful a 1950’s crime drama might have been starring a much younger John Wayne. Being a Duke fan, I think we missed out on a great opportunity. Given the fact he made films like The Barbarian and the Geisha and The Conqueror, I’d much rather he had tried his hand in a serious crime drama along the lines of Glenn Ford’s role in The Big Heat or a William Holden character like the one he played in Union Station. Food for thought and one of those great what if’s of movie history.
Miss Judy Geeson is a name and face that genre fans are likely familiar with. She had already appeared opposite Attenborough in the superior 10 Rillington Place, Beserk with aging Joan Crawford, Doomwatch, the Italian shocker A Candle For the Devil, Hammer’s Fear In the Night and even surfaced more recently in a pair of Rob Zombie terrors, Lords of Salem and 31.
This slick production is easy to locate thanks to multiple releases on home video. Plainly stated, Duke films sell. From VHS to DVD and at least two blu ray releases here in North America. One via Kino Lorber Studio Classics, the other thanks to a limited run of 3000 copies from Twilight Time.