Game for a Brannigan
John Wayne had just turned 67 when he reported for work in London to shoot the bulk of Brannigan (1975) in the summer of 1974. In a city full of imposing monuments and enduring institutions, the Duke still gamely proved he was one himself in this action thriller than opened in U.S. theatres 41 years ago tomorrow. Like the previous year’s stateside-set McQ (1974), he played an old-school urban cop who bucks bureaucracy to collar criminals and willing to share his law enforcement experience with the younger generation, here a by-the-book yet caring Detective Sergeant played by Judy Geeson (co-star of the Twilight Time Blu-ray titles To Sir, with Love (1967) and this month’s new release of 10 Rillington Place (1971)). Though its Panavision time-capsule tourist’s view of a bustling 1970s London is novel and the culture-clashing law enforcement styles of brash Yanks and unshowy Brits (embodied in the Scotland Yard Commander played by Richard Attenborough, also a star of 10 Rillington Place) add an element of fun, its snarling villains are recognizable: a cynical mobster (John Vernon) who’s fled Brannigan’s Chicago turf to avoid arrest, his conniving attorney (Mel Ferrer) with killer impulses of his own, and an emotionless hired hitman (Daniel Pilon) who shadows the Windy City cop with an eye toward elimination. Forty years of prior Wayne movies have taught us that the Duke comes into his own when the firepower brought to bear to stop him is at its most explosive, and Brannigan delivers on that score under the capable direction of Douglas Hickox (Theatre of Blood, Zulu Dawn). Living up to its title, even an older, somewhat slower Wayne, in what would be five years and two more Westerns shy of his 1979 death from cancer, was still up for a brannigan himself, this one taking the form of a drink-fueled pub brawl staged on location at Leadenhall Market and evocative of the memorable fisticuffs of The Quiet Man, Donovan’s Reef and McClintock! Though in his twilight years, Wayne remained a much-loved force of nature who came out swinging and fought his way into moviegoers’ admiration, whether or not his vehicles were top-notch. The professionalism and decency behind the tough-guy persona are lovingly recalled by Geeson on a wonderful Audio Commentary as well as in brief home-movie footage she captured during the film shoot, both exclusive to Brannigan’s TT hi-def Blu-ray.