Saturday, 26 October 2013

Old career in a new town... Brannigan (1975)

There are some films that just about scrape it onto this blog, there has to be something redeemable and a film vehicle for a near-seventy year old John Wayne has to be unlikely… and yet…

Brannigan is a British-made film that just about allows Duke Wayne to carry off a tough-guy role at 68. He’s helped by a great supporting cast as well as superb backdrops of London: another time-capsule film.

Directed by Douglas Hickox, Brannigan afforded Wayne the chance to ape the Clint Eastwood style (he had turned down Dirty Harry) and allows a fresh twist by transporting his unchanging cowboy act to Blighty: a horse-wrangler out of water as it were... There are repeated moments in the film which play on this from attempts to get Brannigan to not carry his gun and to follow native procedures. There’s also a nice running contest between the character and his British counterpart, Commander Sir Charles Swann (Richard Attenborough) which plays up every known cliché about the “special relationship”.

Richard Attenborough
Brannigan’s assigned liaison officer, Detective Sergeant Jennifer Thatcher (the lovely Judy Geeson) quotes her father in saying that there’s only three things wrong with “yanks”: “over-paid, over-sexed and over here…” But you know mutual respect won’t be far behind.

Judy Geeson and Duke
 It’s entertaining and undemanding fun and very well put together. There’s also a fine example of a hard-top e-type Jaguar and you can’t say further than that…

Lieutenant James Brannigan is a Chicago cop who has his own way of doing thing but (you guessed it…) he gets results. He’s tracking down one particularly nasty crime lord, Ben Larkin (John Vernon), who has been caught trying to flee to England. Somewhat against his will – and to the audience’s delight – Duke…sorry, Brannigan is sent to bring him back. Somehow we sense that it’s not going to be quite that simple… and the old dog’s unconventional methods will be all the more so in London Town…

Mel Ferrer and John Vernon
Brannigan arrives and is treated like a red-hot cinder by the locals as Swann and his number two, Insp. Michael Traven (John Stride – who was excellent in the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead I saw a few years later…in Manchester), struggle to reign him in. Miss Thatcher is altogether more understanding and there’s an under-current of fatherly affection between her and the old grump. But, where did they get that second name from? The “Milk Snatcher” was a shadow cabinet minister at the time…

Judy Geeson
Meanwhile the plot has really kicked in. A hit man is assigned to off Brannigan by Larkin’s team led by Mel Fields (Mel Ferrer) – he’s Gorman (Daniel Pilon) the nastiest in the business but at least he drives that e-type. Then Larkin is kidnapped from his health club by two Brit gangsters played by Charlie-the-Handle (James Booth) and Drexel (Del Henney) whose aim is to hold him to ransom.

James Booth and Del Henney keep watch
So now Brannigan has to help the Limeys save face as well as catch his man. The first attempt to snag the kidnappers fails as they extract the money from a drop in Piccadilly by drilling a hole beneath a post box.

But there are some lively police-procedurals as Brannigan and co set about scaring the truth out of the likes of Brian Glover and Tony Booth (Cherie’s dad) not to mention the far less threatening Tony Robinson – “look kids it’s Baldric!”, “Who?”, “Er… the guy out of Time Team!”, “Oh yeah…”

John Wayne and Tony Robinson

There’s also a classic bar brawl at a pub in Leadenhall Market in which Attenborough joins Wayne in slugging it out on that violent but harmless way of every good-humoured scrap since The Quiet Man: glassing with a smile and mutually respectful manliness all round.

Leadenhall Market shake-down
Then there’s a car chase which is very well executed and shows off some of the highlights of central London including Tower Bride over which the cars fly as the draw bridge lifts higher.

Jaguar E-Type on the attack
And, all the while Brannigan’s hit-man gets closer and closer to the kill, narrowly avoiding nailing Miss Thatcher as the dead-eyed cop reacts just in time to put him off.

The plot is well constructed as the main elements race to a satisfying conclusion as the double-crossing crosses over itself in the inevitable deserted offices of decaying docklands (probably now the home of gastro pubs and luxury flats).

Wayne still convinces and went on to make Rooster Coburn next, one of his better late period films. When I was younger I was less generous to his attempts to stay in the game but this was all he knew, from being an extra in silent films he worked for over 50 years in cinema.

Dusty verdict: Worth watching for the cars and the streets of 1974. There’s also a host of great British acting talent including cameos from Don Henderson and Lesley Anne Down. You can get the very reasonably-priced DVD here.

A couple of years later, The Squeeze showed a sleazier and more realistic side to London’s criminal classes, followed by others, but Brannigan helped keep the British crime flick alive at a time of struggle.

Lesley Anne Down
Brian Glover meets Duke

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