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Brannigan (1975)

“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.

18 Comments »

  1. I have seen this film, and it is at best, diverting. Less than diverting – but worth watching for the brief scene between Wayne and Joan Crawford – is: ‘Reunion In France’ (1942). Wayne does some of his best acting here, in an otherwise dull and banal story. I do not know that he was subtle enough for film noir – but you write of William Holden, and you ought to see him in: ‘The Turning Point’ (1952), a film noir of the highest calibre – and with the incomparable Alexis Smith. Claire Bloom’s Blanche was better than Vivien Leigh’s. The entire production was magical – and transported one to the South in a way that the film did not. As to Judy Geeson, I have always thought her far more than decorative (which was what some critics seemed to think). She has lived in Los Angeles for more than thirty years.

    • I’ve yet to see that Holden film. One of the few that I’v’e missed out on. Will go on a hunt. If memory serves Jessica Tandy was the original Blanch before the Brando- Leigh version on film. Didn’t know Miss Geeson living in L.A. Just got a hold of Diagnosis Murder with her and Chris Lee that I’m looking forward to seeing. Cheers’

  2. This is a fun if slight movie, and the whole “fish out of water” theme works very well.

    BTW, I can’t agree with the comment above about Wayne lacking the subtlety to work in film noir, or anything else for that matter. Sure he had his broad roles, but he was a far better actor than a lot of glib commentators would have us believe. His films for Ford are uniformly excellent and offer a range of shaded performances, and that’s before we get to neglected and criminally underrated material like Wake of the Red Witch.

    And actually, Wayne did have a crack at the thriller genre in his prime. Unfortunately though, that film was Big Jim McLain. Aside from the highly dubious politics, it’s just a really poor movie. It feels like the enthusiasm to produce a piece of propaganda (and a pretty unpleasant piece at that) meant everybody involved forgot about making a worthwhile film.

    • Totally agree on Big Jim McClain. I was actually rather saddened to see how poor it was upon a revisit about 10 years ago as I hadn’t seen it since childhood. Not sure if you misread a comment. I think Duke was a very good actor and wish he had starred in noirs like Big Heat etc… Wake of the Red Witch one of my favorite Duke adventures and made my list of the Duke Dozen.

  3. I know I’ve seen the Wayne ’70s action film where he’s up on the Space Needle in Seattle…and since ‘Brannigan’ is set in London, I guess ‘McQ’ is the one I’ve seen. I love the tag line for that first lobby card, though, so I might have to check this one out. And yeah, it might’ve been cool seeing Wayne take a crack at a noir film…I picture him more as a good-guy cop – in the Charles McGraw mold – than a private detective…a no-nonsense kind of guy who didn’t take any crap from anyone.

    • This one’s fun in both nostalgia and the fish out of water sccenario. Also like Duke’s entrance at the start of the film and Vernon made for a good villain. Yeah Duke in The Narrow Margin works for me.

  4. The unusual locale gives this one a boost along with Sir Richard and Judy Geeson. Duke was so rooted in the American milieu that the trip across the ocean seemed to give his performance a bit of a charge and the film jets through the London streets well. If you stand back and think about it for a minute you realize the Duke is too old to be doing some of what he supposedly accomplishing, at least without a lot more wear than we’re shown, but his established toughness smooths over the rough spots making this one of his better latter day flicks. It’s certainly no Shootist but a decent crime story.

    • Nothing from the 70’s can touch The Shootist as far as his films go for my money. But this one would have made for a great night out at the theater for those that were fans back in the day. It’s fun and yeah the cast around him though unusual is solid. No stock company members made the trip overseas. Where’s Paul Fix or Ben Johnson?

  5. Love that picture of The Duke going punch crazy down the old boozer with beer glasses flying around the pub.
    Big fan of this in my youth. Keep meaning to get to watch it again. I have the title written in my drafts! I was hoping to do an American in Britain mini series but never quite got there. One day I’ll get to it.
    He’s so cool and how big and brash he comes into each scene.
    Mike you so right, as always. How amazing it would’ve have been to have seen Wayne in a series of tough 50’s crime drama’s. Damn what a missed opportunity.
    Great tagline “Big Jim Brannigan Takes On London – Chicago Style!”
    Will be tuning into this soon.

    • Like many of Duke’s films, they’re always a welcome rewatch and this one’s no different. I guess if you know some of the locations, all the better. His opening scene in this is a beauty if you recall … Knock, Knock.

  6. Brannigan and McQ are entertaining, but yeah, The Duke was way way too old to play action heroes. BTW, he isn’t that old, but due to health issues he looks much older (Harrison Ford is almost 80 and still looks fantastic). Anyhow, I love Wayne so everything is good. 🙂

    • I think it goes back to older people today look far younger in general then people did from years past and also are not necessarily looked upon the same way…. “out to pasture” so to speak. Look at Sly Stallone making Expendables featured at the same age as Duke was in these. But yeah, Duke was great no matter his age.

      • “…older people today look far younger in general then people did from years past” Cigarettes are probably to blame. As you know, The Duke was a heavy smoker. Anyhow, I don’t mind that Wayne (and Bronson for that matter) played action heroes all the way to the end. What I don’t like is that they often pretended that they were younger. Sly did great in Creed precisely because he played his age. Eastwood has embraced old age too (aka In the Line of Fire).

        • Maybe Cary Grant and Randolph Scott did it the right way, they just walked away. Bronson should have moved to older roles. Biggest mistake of his later years was turning down City Slickers. Good for Palance though and he was great. Sly was great in Creed and yes Eastwood has done well in his few acting roles over the past 20 years.

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