John Wayne could admit a mistake when he made one. Offered the part of San Francisco detective Harry Callahan -- better known as Dirty Harry -- in the late 1960's, Wayne turned down the part only to see the cop series blow up in a big way for star Clint Eastwood. It took him a couple years to answer, but Wayne turned to the cop genre himself, first with 1974's McQ, and a year later with 1975's Brannigan.
A longtime Chicago cop, Lt. Jim Brannigan (Wayne) has built up quite a reputation for himself over the years, both for good and bad. He's always done his job well but built up quite a list of enemies in the process, especially Ben Larkin (John Vernon), a gangster with a whole lot of knowledge about a whole lot of mob money. With the district attorney's case against Larkin finally coming together, the mobster bails and heads for London on the run. The Chicago police are well aware of the move and with Scotland Yard have Larkin under full surveillance. The catch? They need somebody tough to bring him back. Who better than the man who's been on his case for years, Brannigan himself. The veteran cop heads to England, but what starts as a simple pick-up is quickly thrown out the window when Larkin is kidnapped and ransomed off. Can Brannigan and London police track him down before someone else finishes him off?
As Wikipedia is quick to point out, this 1975 cop drama/thriller follows in the footsteps of Coogan's Bluff (also starring Mr. Eastwood) in terms of the cop as the fish out of water. This isn't fast, brutal Chicago where police work doesn't always play by the rules. This is London, an almost gentlemanly situation where guns are forbidden and rules are made to be followed. Who better than John Wayne to mess that world up? I submit that NO ONE would have been more suited to it. From director Douglas Hickox, 'Brannigan' is a solid if unspectacular cop story, benefiting from Wayne's presence, some solid supporting cast members and very cool on-location shooting in both Chicago (too briefly) and London. Like McQ, it's no classic, but there's enough to recommend.
If you've poked around my reviews these past years, you can tell I kinda like John Wayne. Through good and bad, I'll give his movies a watch. By the 1970's as his health took a turn for the worse (again), he made movies that weren't ground-breaking or world-shattering. Instead, these are movies and roles that are fun. That are entertaining, and in a way, serve as a sort of comfort food. In a way, they were almost a Farewell Tour for one of Hollywood's all-time greats. Much like McQ, Wayne is able to fill the screen with his larger-than-life persona, a gruff, aging cop while still allowing the script to have some fun with his senior citizen status. I've lived in Chicago my whole life, and let me tell you, there's no 68-year old cops running around. From what I've read, Wayne was very much struggling with health concerns during filming, but it doesn't show.
He brings that John Wayne energy in all his scenes, whether he's interrogating a suspect, working with his appointed British partner (Judy Geeson), or going toe-to-toe with his British Scotland Yard counterpart, the very Commander Swann (Richard Attenborough). Health concerns or not (the Duke would only make two more films), Wayne brings that familiar energy to the screen. He has some great chemistry with Geeson in some flirty scenes that aren't pushed too far or too cheesy. The same for his alpha male showdowns with Attenborough's Swann. These are two guys used to doing things their way and getting things done their way. It was very cool to see two pros like Wayne and Attenborough play off each other so effortlessly, one scene ready to murder each other, the next cops doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Some fun parts for surely.
Three years away from his most famous, iconic role in Animal House, Vernon is excellent -- as always -- as the slimy, smooth villain, although he's underused as his characters gets twisted and turned around. Still, it's John Vernon as a bad guy. Hard to pass that up. Mel Ferrer gets to have some fun as Larkin's equally slimy lawyer, forced to work with the cops when the ransom negotiation begins. Also look for Ralph Meeker as Brannigan's commanding officer (a very quick part), Daniel Pilon as a hired killer tasked with offing Brannigan, John Stride as Traven, one of Swann's officers, and James Booth (of Zulu fame) as one of Larkin's sneering kidnappers.
'McQ' had its fair share of flaws, but overall, it was a pretty decent cop flick. I put Brannigan a touch below it. The story and running time feels a little bloated, like 10 or 15 minutes could have been edited here and there. The action is solid -- especially a car chase through London -- and packs quite a punch. It's fun especially seeing Wayne when he does get to unleash all his fury in some interrogation scenes. There are too many times though the story simply drifts. Even the ending disappoints a little, a pretty decent twist livening things up thankfully. It's not a classic and maybe it's not very good at all, but I enjoyed it for what it is.
You only get so many flicks from your favorite actors so enjoy them and focus on the positive. It ain't a classic, but it's entertaining.
Brannigan (1975): ** 1/2 /****