BR: Brannigan (1975)

September 5, 2014 | By


Brannigan_BRFilm: Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  July 8, 2014

Genre:  Crime

Synopsis: A Chicago detective in London must work with the local police to rescue a U.S  mobster kidnapped by British crooks and held for a ransom.

Special Features:  Audio commentary track with producer Nick Redman and actress Judy Geeson / Isolated stereo music track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.




John Wayne had already experimented with an image makeover in McQ (1972), playing a detective in a fairly dour story involving murder, police corruption, and outright betrayal, but for his second and final poke at the popular cop genre, the Duke opted for a story which embraced some of the elements from his westerns yet delivered the main ingredients of a cop thriller: subterfuge, a hot chick, and more than one car chase.

The four credited writers (most sourced from TV) shaped the story into unsophisticated escapist fluff, wherein Wayne plays a kind of American sheriff who becomes a fish-out-of-water in London, England, befuddled by the local argot, chi-chi liquor, and particular breakfast fodder while trying to track down the kidnapped felon he’s been sent to retrieve to face justice back in Chicago.

Brannigan is a slight variant on McQ’s elements where its eponymous anti-hero – a detective with a vigilante streak – must find both stolen booty and unearth corruption, but unfettered by an ex-wife and a teenage daughter, Brannigan is able to float around London, cracking skulls, carrying an unauthorized gun which even his British superior Swann (Richard Attenborough) can’t snatch from his grasp, engage in thoroughly reckless behaviour with total impunity, and be partnered with a woman one third his age.

Reassigned from vice to Brannigan’s driver and culture liaison, Jennifer (Judy Geeson) is all smiles, and treats her new job like a cultural exchange, aiding and educating the Yank in local customs, and engaging in some mutually respectful flirting without any desire to go beyond friends and colleagues.

Brannigan’s also being shadowed by a supposedly reputable hitman (Daniel Pilon) hired by kidnapped kingpin Larkin (John Vernon, looking quite sleazy in long-ish hair) for past grievances, and both he and Swann are growing increasingly irritated by Fields (Mel Ferrer, wearing a perpetual merry grin), Larkin’s slick and slimy legal representative who’s only too willing to pay ransom funds, and seems far too at ease with his client’s life & death conundrum.

The comedic elements seem to have been drawn from more recent James Bond outings, some of which work due to Wayne’s natural charm, and a few that are banal (notably the Swann’s increasing frustration with Brannigan, which is usually expressed though much facial outrage and sustained close-ups on Attenborough).

The worst offence is a bar room brawl that has no reason to exist except to please Wayne fans pining for more western-like elements – or so the film’s producers may have believed. Designed to have Brannigan extricate a suspect soon to be offed by the hitman, it’s an overlong escalation of silliness which similarly made Wayne’s cheeky western, North to Alaska (1960), so uneven.

There’s also an obligatory car chase in which Brannigan commandeers a citizen’s brand new car which gets rapidly trashed as the American drives a right side drive auto through the streets of London and over a parting bridge, but perhaps the following are more glowing examples of scriptorial dopiness.

The first has Geeson being ‘mistaken’ for Brannigan by the hitman, in spite of the actress being short and female, and Wayne being tall and very male; the second is the extraordinary impunity with which Brannigan discovers a bomb-rigged lavatory in his apartment, and rather than call the bomb squad, triggers the bomb, blowing a hole through the wall and endangering the lives of tenants (if not the building’s structural integrity). There’s also the hitman who puts himself in jeopardy by exposing himself in his loud black and red-striped Jaguar instead of trying to kill Brannigan more stealthily – like from a distance, or maybe by just hiding in Brannigan’s apartment and finishing the job with a silencer-tipped gun.

Unlike McQ‘s more realistic portrayal of police procedures, Brannigan is clear-cut escapism, and yet even with all the wonky moments in this weird amalgam of a Wayne western, detective thriller, fish-out-of-water comedy, and British caper, there’s a peculiar charm in seeing Wayne easing through this fairly wan role, surrounded by a top-notch American and British cast. The real draw, though, is London, captured in 1975 with shockingly less traffic, and glimpses of many local residential, urban, and commercial locations which are now either swirling in traffic, or have been transformed by massive redevelopment.

The finale at the Isle of Dogs is a prime example, as is Covent Garden, and the many streets which seem so uncluttered – a point that’s heavily discussed by commentators Nick Redman and co-star Geeson. Director Douglas Hickox shot almost all of the film on location, and Brannigan may represent a rare snapshot of a post-swinging sixties London before the city underwent major transformations.

Hickox remains a highly underrated and ignored director, largely because the expert second unit filmmaker headlined only a handful of movies in his career, but his extraordinary gift for composition, visual rhythm, and pacing often rendered banal scripts into visually arresting works, and Brannigan is no different. Opting for a gritty docu-drama style, Gerry Fisher’s cinematography is nevertheless some of the most exquisitely composed ‘scope for the detective genre, with every hand-held or car-strapped camera maintaining perfect 2.35:1 compositional balance. Malcolm Cooke’s editing is equally sharp, especially in the amazing car chases – fast and slow – which Hickox covered using multiple angles and POVs.

For the final showdown between Brannigan and the hitman, Hickox may also have been more than a little inspired by H.B. Halicki’s Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), which treated the final moments of the central car like a wheezing animal. Hickox treats the ‘death of the Jaguar’ in a similar fashion, staging the showdown between Brannigan and the motoring hitman like a bullfight, with every tail-swerve, the exhaust fumes, and kicked up mud moving in slow-motion. It’s a great sequence that proves the level of kinetics one can derive from good editing in place of ADD editing and digitally tweaked shots.

Dominic Frontiere’s score has some interesting orchestral jazz / rock fusion elements, but there are moments when one senses certain scenes were tracked with temp music from Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes (1968); it’s a good score, but a little too evocative of POTA in spots.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is a really fine presentation of Wayne’s third-last film that’s admittedly a lesser work in the actor’s massive filmography. Geeson says the star’s illness wasn’t obvious nor hindered his ability to play the tough cop, but he’s certainly less agile here than in McQ, although the script does have his character doing more sitting and standing, being a fish-out-of-water paired with a British handler.

Getting Geeson to participate in a full commentary is a major coup, and what often materializes are very candid and personal recollections by two former Londoners talking about their own stomping grounds, adding their thoughts to the city’s transformation, as well as some of the cinematic icons in the cast. (Geeson had previously co-starred with Attenborough in the brilliant true crime film 10 Rillington Place.)

Among the surprises are Ralph Meeker as Brannigan’s Chicago captain, Kathryn Leigh Scott (TV’s Dark Shadows) in a tiny role, a very young Lesley Anne-Down (The Great Train Robbery) as a hooker, Brian Glover as a bullish bookie, James Booth (Zulu, Twin Peaks) as Larkin’s chief kidnapper, and an unbilled Anthony Booth (Corruption) as a suspect highly unhappy in being questioned with a bright projector bulb.

Wayne’s final films were Rooster Cogburn (1975) and The Shootist (1976) before he passed away from cancer in 1979, whereas Attenborough would soon devote more time to directing, having made his debut with Young Winston (1972); after Brannigan, Attenborough would direct, with A Bridge Too Far (1977), the first of several notable epics.

Geeson’s career eventually switched back to TV, where she enjoyed a recurring role on Poldark (1975-1977), and later in Mad About You (1992-199) after moving to Hollywood. Douglas Hickox’ films include Theatre of Blood (1973), Sky Riders (1976) and Zulu Dawn (1979), after which he settled into rather mediocre TV work.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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